TODAY |

The Kiwis helping clean up the rubbish dumped across Aotearoa

Along the scenic Karangahake Gorge a man dressed in a bright orange high visibility vest walks the shoulder of the highway picking up rubbish and dumping it into bags.

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Kiwis across New Zealand are banding together to clean up our roadsides and beaches. Source: 1 NEWS

Motorists driving past film this mysterious man lining the side of the highway with white bags. The footage is upload to social media and immediately goes viral.

Source: Supplied

Thousands comment and share about this one man’s endeavour to keep a stretch of road near his local community clean.

While many New Zealanders drove past him on their way to enjoy a summer break, the Paeroa local was out five to 11 hours a day bending down and bagging plastic bottles and takeaway containers chucked out of car windows.

Over a month and 24 kilometres Quinn Barker walked and picked up rubbish.

Just some of the items Quinn Barker found on the side of the road along the Karangahake Gorge. Source: Supplied

“To be honest I knew there was a lot [of rubbish] out there so expected it to take a while,” Mr Barker told 1 NEWS.

“I started from the Paeroa 50-kilometre sign and went to Owharoa waterfall and back.

“I just wanted to clean my beautiful whenua and have people feel welcome and not disappointed when they see the amount of rubbish on the side of our roads.”

Mr Barker says he had been wanting to get out and clean that stretch of motorway for a while and when the Christmas period came around, he decided to do it.

“I noticed there was an issue and I wanted to solve it and at the same time bring it to people’s attention … so that it can influence them to maybe do something similar or think before they throw rubbish out the window."

During his big clean up, Mr Barker removed 50 tyres that had been dumped down the riverbank in the Karangahake Gorge.

Quinn Barker found items such as tyres and bottles lying on the side of the road through the Karangahake Gorge. Source: Supplied

“This is not how our land should be treated.

“We as Kiwis need to make a difference by keeping it [New Zealand] clean.”

He says the support from others online has kept him motivated and he recently uploaded a mini-documentary on his clean-up efforts on Facebook.

Des Watson has been cleaning up beaches and roadsides full time for the last six months. Source: Supplied

For Des Watson, cleaning up New Zealand’s coastline has become a fulltime job.

“I had been doing it for quite a few years, but nothing to the scale I’m doing now.”

Always supportive of environmental groups Mr Watson would often walk on his local beach in Rarangi just outside of Blenheim and fill bags of rubbish.

In 2018, Mr Watson made the decision to start a journey across New Zealand and collected rubbish from around our coastlines.

Source: Supplied

Inspired by his commitment to his war on rubbish, a friend created a Facebook page seven months ago which challenges Kiwis to support Mr Watson and clean up litter in their communities.

Called the Pick Up 100 Challenge, the Facebook page is full of videos and pictures of Kiwis across the country picking up 100 items of rubbish.

“It gets more people involved in cleaning up our environment and ecosystems,” Mr Watson says.

The support from Kiwis on social media and through Mr Watson's Givealittle page has been a boost for him as he travels across New Zealand.

But sometimes the journey can take its toll on Mr Watson not just financially but emotionally.

“It’s quite confronting. I get to see the beauty of the countryside, but I also see what others don’t see.”

Des Watson piles all the items he found while cleaning up a beach during his trip across New Zealand. Source: Supplied

From witnessing people burning their rubbish on beaches in the Hawke’s Bay to finding thousands of pieces of plastic in Manukau Heads near Auckland, Mr Watson has encountered the overwhelming reality of littering in New Zealand.

“It’s diabolical. It’s a real worry. We just can’t stand by and let this happen.”

Mr Watson says he wants to lead by example and plant the seed of cleaning up in others.

“I want people to use common sense.

“Just get busy and take a bit of pride in your community.”

Source: Supplied

It was recovering from pneumonia that Aucklander Caroline Gray started her campaign against litter in her neighbourhood.

Struggling to get her energy back, Ms Gray started walking and it was while walking she began picking up any rubbish she came across.

The good feeling that came with keeping her community clean “hooked” Ms Gray to picking up rubbish on the side of the road.

Talking to her husband about the amount of rubbish they were finding in their community, they realised if they started a Facebook page they could get others involved in cleaning up their communities.

Caroline Gray and her husband started an annual event which encourages Kiwis once a year to clean up their communities. Source: Supplied

Last October they created the event Walk & Collect Weekend, an annual event which encourages Kiwis from across the country to grab a bag and clean up their streets and parks for the weekend.

Over 100 groups across the country took part.

It's not just Caroline, Des and Quinn who are taking up the fight against littering, Kiwis every year are volunteering to grab a bag and head out into communities across the country to pick up rubbish.

Heather Saunderson from Keep New Zealand Beautiful says they've seen an increase in Kiwis volunteering for their annual clean ups.

In 2019, Keep New Zealand Beautiful saw a 10 per cent increase in the number of people volunteering during the annual Clean Up Week.

Despite the positive numbers for the annual clean ups, Ms Saunderson says they have seen a decrease in people getting involved in regular clean ups.

"We have had a long standing partnership with Envirowaste and Waste Management, whereby they allow Clean Up Week volunteers to dispose of the rubbish they collect for free.

"Unfortunately this does not extend to year round clean up initiatives, so this can serve as a deterrent as people do their bit and then are left with rubbish to dispose of."

Although there's a dip in the number of people heading out with a rubbish bag to pick up litter down their street groups across New Zealand are beginning to form on social media. Local communities are creating groups and events to spread the word.

Through these groups and annual events Ms Gray says there is a real push to change the stigma that picking up rubbish is some else’s problem.

“Just do your bit and pick up your rubbish. It’s easy.”

News tip or more information? Email Natalia Sutherland