Time To Clean Up... By Claire Sykes

19 August 2019

Fifteen years ago, I visited southern Thailand for a few days; I asked to be taken to the most beautiful place to snorkel…disappointed by the lack of visibility in the water I retreated to the beach to fossick around while I waited for the boat to return. I was astonished and shocked to see plastic bottles and other assorted plastic items half buried in the sand, plastic bags ragged and caught up in the trees.  This image has stayed with me up until now…

“Hey, you guys you are not wearing your high-vis? You stick out like the preverbal!” we look around at the 100 or so volunteers wearing their high vis vests and laugh at ourselves. We are waiting outside the DOC offices in Fox Glacier for a briefing about the day ahead and then we are transported in groups down the road to the riverbed. We are here for the weekend to pick up rubbish.  

An event like this draws many people from all over the country to travel down for the simple reason being, to help out. For our group of like-minded friends, we were looking forward to the excuse to head down the west coast for a few days out of our ordinary routine, for a great cause.

 I knew we would have a good time, but probably didn’t realise at the time just how satisfying it did feel.

The simple act of solidarity brings many aspects of pleasure with it, one is, the vast array of people who gather together in one place under their own steam and work together. These people have decided it’s for great purpose and is important enough to warrant some action and will put aside a few days of their life to be there, they will pull other likeminded and friends to join in. Along with this, comes the meeting of many new people, from different walks of life and culture. For me this was a great pleasure to witness, as I enjoy learning and observing different group behaviour and how we interact together, in this case both out in the riverbed working, and in the local backpackers where all the volunteers were accommodated.  Any issues with behaviour were quickly dealt with and bought to the whole group’s attention in the daily briefings. All credit by the Conservation Department to bring everybody up to speed to avoid any further problems.

More publicity for this particular appalling event drew in many people; I was talking to a DOC (Department of Conservation) worker who said when they first started with between 10 and 20 people picking up rubbish it was pretty depressing to think how long it might actually take!  But now, with over 150 organised volunteers combing the riverbed, each armed with gloves, a digging tool and sacks in hand, the difference was phenomenal! The army also, bringing out great waves of people ready to work in rain hail and snow!

With the first stage of this particular clean up now finished much earlier than expected, we can carry on with our lives now, bury our heads in the sand and hopefully forget about the reason we were there...

Or, we can change and improve our own personal and community-based routines of reducing waste and creating more landfill rubbish, we can actually inspire others around us to make the changes more quickly.

New Zealand is slow to respond and as the youngest country in the world shouldn’t we be setting a learned example of what not to do? We could lead the way; we could steal innovative ideas from Scandinavia even!... Not heading down the same dirty road as the rest of the third world!

Community effort to clean up Fox River, New Zealand.
What do you think?

Thinking about Thailand, I wonder in what state that particularly beautiful Island is like now…I am too scared to return.   

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