Rafting guides on one of NZ’s longest rivers pull half a tonne of plastic out of Buller Gorge

Rafting guides on one of our longest rivers say they've pulled half a tonne of plastic out from the Buller gorge.

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They say much of the pollution is plastic wrapping from farms and conservationists are calling for tougher rules to make sure it's properly taken care of. Source: 1 NEWS

Wild Rivers Rafting co-owner Bruce Thomas showed the extent of the problem to 1 NEWS and says bits of plastic can typically be seen “every 50 to 100 metres”.

For a guide who's spent a decade showing the pristine waters off to the world, it's an embarrassment.

“This is our magic, look at this place, this is awesome,” Mr Thomas exclaimed.

“And then we get plastic all down the riverbanks and it totally messes with that."

He organised clean up trips and estimates they’ve removed half a tonne of plastic so far.

“It's 170km of river and we've probably done two thirds of it."

Mr Thomas says much of the pollution is plastic wrapping from farms and believes it happens when “people store haybales too close to the river… or perhaps not very careful with where they put the plastic wrap afterwards in low lying paddocks”.

Last December, the Buller River was high and flooding covered parts of the highway.

Plastic rubbish build-up on a bank of the Buller River Source: 1 NEWS

Richard Reynolds, Federated Farmers West Coast secretary, says its during those events that “things go wrong and accidents happen”.

But he says best practice is for farmers to ensure safe storage “and then safe storage of the plastic after you've used it”.

He and other farmers have been helping out with the Buller clean up efforts and says “silage wrap's a bit disappointing” because “farmers have got the ability to be the biggest recyclers in New Zealand”, with voluntary schemes up and running.

Greenpeace NZ says recycling agricultural plastic shouldn't be optional and is calling for tougher rules.

Executive director Russel Norman says “we should make sure the plastic can be collected and re-used and it has a deposit on it so the farmer has an incentive not to dump it down or let it blow away”.

“If there's a deposit on it there's a strong incentive to bring it back."

Following consultation last year, the Government is still deciding whether to make the producers of farm plastics responsible for helping recycle them.

Associate Environment Minister Eugenie Sage says the photos she’s seen of the farm bailage and plastic wrap in the Buller River is “distressing” because of the “negligent attitude to waste and waterways that they represent”.

She says there’s “no excuse” for plastic pollution in the Buller River and its tributaries and will be asking the Ministry for the Environment to work with AgRecovery and Federated Farmers and local councils to “promote a more responsible approach to farm plastic waste”.