'Ticking time bomb of rubbish' - Old Taranaki dump site collapsing into the sea

Waste from an old landfill on the Taranaki coast that’s slowly eroding into the sea below is being called a “ticking time bomb of rubbish” by the man who came across the waste last week.

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Des Watson filmed the hundreds of pieces of rubbish he discovered below the cliffs near Ōpūnake Beach. Source: Supplied

Des Watson has made it his mission to clean up rubbish from the coasts along New Zealand and discovered the old landfill while collecting below the cliffs near Ōpūnake Beach in Taranaki.

Rotting plastic, electrical wires, parts of cars, steel and tyres were just a few of the hundreds of items that Watson found along the shoreline.

“You can see plastic hanging out of the bank,” Watson told 1 NEWS.

“It’s a disaster...there’s asbestos rotting, plastic and probably other toxic stuff here and it’s all going to go into the ocean at some stage.”

Watson said coming across the mess really concerned him.

“Walking down from the top of the cliffs it is evident that this hillside is filled with rubbish.”

Watson said the scale of the old landfill is "massive".

Worried about what could possibly be swept out to sea Watson got in contact with the Taranaki Council.

He said the council said they were unaware of the landfill and were concerned about the amount of rubbish falling into the sea near the town of Ōpūnake.

The South Taranaki Distirct Council was also unaware of the old landfill’s existence until they were approached by 1 NEWS this week for comment on the old dump.

A spokesperson for the council said the landfill is an historic dump site which was closed in the 1960s decades before their council came into being.

From what the council was able to determine the old site was used for hardfill for items such as old whiteware and glass which would mainly have been burnt.

The council has sent out a team to investigate the area to assess the extent of the issue and will work with the Taranaki Regional Council to remove any waste.

Not a new issue

Old landfills becoming environmental hazards is an ongoing issue for many councils in New Zealand.

Last year a huge storm washed 50 years’ worth of rubbish from the unused Fox River dump through a world heritage site on the West Coast.

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DOC takes over clean-up of Fox River, polluted after March storm uncovered landfill

In response to the disaster the former Associate Minister for the Environment Eugenie Sage formed a multi-agency project to help identify closed landfills to avoid future events like the Fox River disaster.

Sage said Fox River was a wake-up call for New Zealand and the Government would be working with local councils and an environment and engineering company to gather natural hazard and landfill data.

“We know there is an issue. Understanding its extent and severity and options is better than waiting for storm events and rising seas to cause significant and expensive problems for local councils, communities and nature,” Sage said in a statement last year.

However, the project has only been piloted in Canterbury, Southland and the West Coast.

A Ministry for the Environment spokesperson told 1 NEWS “once the results have been validated, the methodology will be shared with the remaining regional councils who are expected to complete the assessment in their regions to help develop the national picture”.

In response to the old Ōpūnake dump, the ministry said it was up to the “responsibility of the local government” to manage closed landfills.

South Taranaki District Council and the Taranaki Regional Council said they will work together to take further action on the Ōpūnake landfill.

For Watson the response to landfills couldn’t come soon enough.

“I just feel that the issue has been swept under the carpet and nothing will be done about it,” he said.

“We have enough plastic entering our me that unacceptable.”