April 11, 2016

Beach Clean Up

We are "beach people".  My husband has surfed his whole life.  I love to play around on a longboard and did a degree is Coastal Geography.  Our girls love to sit on our paddleboard and explore the shallows.  We live on the North Shore of Auckland which has 141km of coastline.  If we're not down the road at our local beach, then we're off up north exploring those beaches.  You get it.  We love the beach.  We are so lucky to live in our clean, green New Zealand but we need to look after it!

In January I saw a beach clean up in my area on Facebook run by Starting the Change, a non-profit who organizes beach clean ups on Aucklands North Shore from Little Shoal Bay to as far north as Hibiscus Coast.  I immediately signed us up!  This isn't a new concept to us.  Everytime we visit the beach we all pick up ten pieces of rubbish each before we leave but this was our first organized event.

Starting the Change runs a well organized event with a simple and to the point debrief before we all got going.  Area, time, first aid, buckets, gloves, don't pick up anything dodgey and we were good to go.  Well over 100 people RSVPed to the event but sadly only around 40 of those actually showed up.

On the way down to the beach I said to my husband that I doubted that there would be enough rubbish for us all to pick up.  In my mind our local beach was pretty pristine.  Man was I wrong.  Here is what I learnt from our beach clean up:

1. It's so small you don't even see it
From a distance our local beach does look pristine but look down at your feet and there are small bits of rubbish everywhere - so small that you are able to turn a blind eye to them: cigarette buts, tear tabs of aluminium cans, torn pieces of plastic wrappers, mini fish shaped soy sauce bottles, bb pellets, broken water balloons - the people that manufacture those have ALOT to answer for!  The fact that they won an award for creating such an environmental disaster completely stuns me!  But I digress... People were sun bathing on towels or having picnic lunches and were totally oblivious to the tiny pieces of rubbish all around them - until we went and picked them up that is!  That made them uneasy.

2. Cigarette Buts!
Further to point one, for some reason, Smokers don't seem to think that flicking their cigarette buts, regardless of where they are, is littering.  I picked up literally hundreds of cigarette buts the whole length of the beach.  A typical cigarette but can take between 18 months and 10 years to decompose.  Put them in the bin!!!

3. Flax bushes are not rubbish bins!
I found the most disgusting smelling RTD cans and wine bottles shoved in a clump of flax bushes.  It was absolutely foul and the smell made me heave!  Put them in the bin!!!

4. You're doing such a wonderful job!
It was pretty clear what we were all doing.  All of us in surgical gloves with brightly coloured buckets, stopping to bend down every few seconds.  A lot of people stopped to comment "You're doing such a wonderful job" upon which the event organizers would point to our meeting place and say "Well grab a bucket and join us".  This was always met with varying excuses - "I'm here with my children/grandchildren" or "I'm out for a walk" or "I'm walking my dog" - and a prompt exit.  The point is that you don't have to join an organized event to make a difference.  Every trip to the beach, park or playground is an opportunity to pick up the litter you see.

5. Companies
While I was picking up all of these tiny man made pieces of trash, my mind started to wander to all of the companies that had produced all of this rubbish.  While a person was responsible for leaving the rubbish there in the first place, a company was responsible for manufacturing it before that.  How many mini fish soy sauce bottles do you think are floating round the planet?  Probably billions!  Which led me to think about the choices we make as consumers and the unnecessary packaging we absorb in to our daily lives.  Picking up rubbish leads to deep thinking I tell you!

That all said, the event was a huge success.  And while Starting the Change is a North Shore based initiative, there are heaps of other people organizing similar initiatives up and down New Zealand.

One of the key players in the coastal clean up scene is Sustainable Coastlines.  They are a fabulous New Zealand organization who support and coordinate large scale beach clean up events as well as educational programmes, public awareness campaigns and replanting programs.  Most recently 30 staff from Corona (one of our favourite Mexican beers!) carried out a massive beach clean up on Auckland's Waiheke Island.  You can keep up to date on upcoming campaigns on the Sustainable Coastlines Events page.

You can also find out more educational information and nationwide event information at Love Your Coast, The Department of Conservation, Project Jonah, and Eco Events.

We went back down to the beach the following day after our beach clean up and sure enough there was new rubbish in place of the old rubbish we had picked up.  Tiny, seemingly insignificant, pieces of rubbish that 99% of people are blind to.  And it pissed me off!  After picking up cigarette but after metal tear tab after cigarette but after metal tear tab I was absolutely gutted.  Not that the hard work of myself, my husband and my little five and three year olds had been wasted because we saved a whole lot of trash from going in the sea, but that people had been so careless with their rubbish.  Perhaps if everyone was made to take a morning or afternoon out of their lives to collect rubbish they wouldn't be so careless with it.  Or perhaps if everyone picked up ten pieces of rubbish each time they visited the beach we wouldn't have these issues anyway.  But most of all, please dispose of your litter responsibly, recycle where you can, please stop thoughtlessly leaving it for someone else to pick up and please teach your children to value their environment and collect a few pieces for the rubbish bin whenever you go out to play.  When you know better you do better.

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