City Beaches Reveal Our Careless Habits

28 September 2012

In just one hour, over 500 volunteers from Porirua, Hutt Valley and Wellington worked on International Coastal Clean-up Day to collect more than 100,000 pieces of waste from the region's coastlines.

Some of the collected rubbish from cleanups

Some of the collected rubbish from cleanups

The rubbish - which weighed more than 5 tonnes - was collected from cleanups around Wellington and Porirua harbours, Makara and the South Coast.  "The dross from our daily lives is washing down city drains and streams, spilling overboard from boats, and blowing from city streets," says Ryley Webster, Community Education Manager from Sustainable Coastlines, a New Zealand environmental charity that is carrying out an audit of the rubbish collected at the cleanup.

About 20 percent of the rubbish collected has been audited to see what it is and where it's coming from.

The mountain of waste includes plastics of all kinds ­- twisted ropes, bags, drinking straws, bottles and tops, pens - tangled fishing lines, parking tickets, cigarette butts and packaging. There is shotgun casing and wadding - likely swept down from farms, shoes to fit all sizes, and industrial strength rubber gloves.  It also includes larger items like tyres, furniture - even a kitchen sink.  Medical waste like syringes and asthma inhalers were picked up at some locations.

Volunteers collected 55 bags of rubbish from Evans Bay beach alone on Sunday 16 September, the day of Coastal Clean-up. In the week following this another 35 bags were picked up by people working on periodic detention.

"Unfortunately, it is a constant flow of rubbish out to sea and onto our beaches. Every time it rains, rubbish makes its way into drains and then out to sea," says Ryley. 

"A lot of what we are finding relates to individual behaviour. This event was a great example of communities coming together to look after their coastlines and tackle what is a global problem at a local level."

The type of rubbish found often reflected the use of the area and catchment where it was found. Oriental Bay was littered with broken glass and cigarette butts and the Makara coastline was covered in rope.

Wellington Mayor Celia Wade-Brown says the rubbish collected on our coast and beaches is a reminder that we all need to make sure that we keep our streams and oceans free from refuse.

"Many discarded objects are food and drink containers," she says. "This is domestic pollution, not industrial, so we must all take personal responsibility to prevent this litter entering streams and the sea.

"The event is also a great example of Wellingtonians coming together to improve our city's environment.  We know that we will need to work hard to achieve our eco-city vision and events like this demonstrate that Wellingtonians really care about our environment and that we are on the right track," she says.

"There was a fantastic turnout at the cleanup, which included a number of environmental and community organisations, local residents and students," says Councillor Helene Ritchie, Wellington City Council's Natural Environment Portfolio Leader. 

Councillor Ritchie says the results of the audit would be used for targeted education campaigns about the need to properly dispose of rubbish - "whether it's talking to fishermen or talking to schools".

"In an ideal world we won't have to run coastal cleanups," she says. "If people created less rubbish and were careful where they put it, it wouldn't end up harming our coast.  We need to remember that our ocean is downstream from everywhere and should not be on the receiving end of our careless behaviour."