Coast Clean-up

Koren Allpress, 02 September 2019


Dr Allan Simpson says he will never buy another plastic bottle of shampoo ever again.

The sentiment came after he and his wife Dr Beth Simpson recently spent a weekend on the West Coast helping pick up rubbish at Fox River, just west of Fox Glacier, and what he saw astounded him.

“We will never buy shampoo in plastic containers again,” he said. “You can buy it as shampoo soap now and Consumer say it is better anyway, in efficiency and cost-effectiveness and of course for the planet.”

The pair, along with about a 100 hundred others – a combination of Department of Conservation staff, members of the NZ Army and volunteers, cleared about 10 tonnes of rubbish – the majority of it plastic – from more than 40 hectares of river bed over the two days.

Up until 2010 part of the area alongside the river was used as a rubbish dump. Unfortunately, the land that covered the dump up was washed away earlier this year during a flood, sen

ding tonnes of rubbish downstream, into the ocean and along the coast.

“It looked depressing to start with but we cleared good areas of it. It is amazing how when a hundred or so people each choose a spot and work away towards each other, then walk along to find the next untouched rubbish patch, like ants we end up with a systematic and comprehensive clearance,” he said.

While the clean-up efforts were coordinated in time to prevent spring floods from worsening the situation, Dr Simpson believed it was a job that would take years to complete.

“We are just clearing the surface stuff with hands and trowels. Each new flood will bring up more buried plastic to wash out to sea.”

He said the situation was one that was not unique to Fox River.

“How many similar landfills do we have around New Zealand that are sited in or near riverbeds that will be prone to same washouts with climate change events. We need media and Government to wake up to this as a national disaster and for local and national Government to start planning to set aside millions to move [or] secure our landfills.”

“[Plastic] is a pervasive problem. The apples and bananas we got given for lunch all had little plastic brand stickies on them – just like the little bits of plastic we were picking out of the riverbed debris! Sad irony of modern life.”

While it was a grim task that brought the group together, the weekend was not without its good moments.

“It was a lovely sunny day and views of the Southern Alps were stunning. What a privilege to live here and spend a couple of days with these people.”

Dr Simpson said some of the amazing people he met were spending up to a month assisting with the clean-up.

“Typical comments from volunteers, many young people, were “we want to help out” implying by their presence that they care, and more significantly, “we want to learn from this and think more carefully about how we live our everyday lives”.”

He encouraged people to put more thought into the products they were consuming with regards to the amount of the plastic they incorporated, and said anyone who had time to spare should consider signing up with DOC to help with the clean-up.