© New Zealand Broadcasting School 2021

Less rubbish from this year's river clean-up

Lucy Bendell
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Mother of all clean-ups event  Mother of all clean-ups event

The Ōtautahi community came together to clean up their riverways and the total rubbish collected has decreased since the last clean-up.

For over 1200 Cantabrians, Mother's Day weekend was spent at the ‘mother of all clean-ups’, giving the gift to mother nature by cleaning up waterways around Ōtautahi.  

This event happens annually over Mother's Day weekend and this year 51 community groups came together to clean up their rivers.  

Rubbish was picked up the full length of the Heathcote and Avon River, as well as the estuary edges. 

The amount of waste has decreased impressively since the clean-up began six years ago. 

But last year's 'Mother of all clean-ups' was much like the rest of New Zealand's events last year: it was online.  

Covid-19 restricted the clean-up, with people encouraged to pick up rubbish from outside their homes.   

This reached just over 200 people.  

The online event will still be happening this year as it allows residents and families to learn and contribute from the comfort of their home. 

But this year's event was the biggest since it began reaching over 1200 volunteers.  

Estuary Trust manager, Tanya Jenkins, predicted the rubbish would amount to several tons but expected it would be less than other years. 

Around 700 bags of rubbish were collected and 100 additional oversized items. 

When the event was launched in 2015 it started as a trial covering just 5km of the river with just 200 people. 

The rubbish picked up that year amounted to 5.6 tonnes of rubbish, equal to the weight of an elephant.  

This is when they realised the clean-up needed to happen more often. 

Both sides of the Heathcote/Ōpāwaho River were cleaned, from the Ferrymead Bridge to the Lyttleton Tunnel Road bridge.  

This year the team started when the tide was out so they could reach the mudflat areas. 


The Avon Heathcote Estuary Ihutai
Avon and Heathcote River in dark blue and the Estuary in light blue

Jenkins said it was the community that needed to deal with the problem as it came from them, from drains to gutters to rivers, estuaries and now oceans.   

Because of people, animals and marine wildlife had guts full of plastic, she said. 

So, Jenkins encouraged Kiwis to participate in the high five challenge. 

Jenkins said if every individual in New Zealand did the high five challenge there wouldn’t be any rubbish anywhere in NZ.

Ōpāwaho-Heathcote River network’s Dr Helene Mautner explained the high five campaigns as a challenge for residents to pick up five pieces of rubbish from their area.  

Dr Mautner said if every household did this, it would reduce the amount of rubbish immensely. 

To make more of an impact, the organisers decided to create a new branch, 'The Mother of all clean ups: School edition'. 

The inaugural event took place on Thursday with 20 schools attending from around Ōtautahi. 

1300 students cleaned up rivers, estuaries and harbours covering over 10km around their schools. 

City councillor, Sara Templeton, has attended the clean-ups from the very start and supports the event, but this year she got more involved and helped organise it.  

Templeton said it was a huge effort of coordination from all the community groups and individuals that clean up the waterways and it was appreciated by all.

"We need to be doing more when it comes to water, we need to be doing more when it comes to climate, we need to be doing more," said Templeton at the event.

Green MP Eugenie Sage was also a part of the clean-up and congratulated everyone. 

The project manager for 'drinkable rivers' Bex De Prospo is behind the idea and explains that we might see a reduction in the weight of the rubbish but that does not necessarily mean less rubbish. 

This year she said there were lots of small pieces of rubbish which was what did the damage to wildlife.

Birds were more likely to swallow a drink bottle lid rather than the actual drink bottle itself she said. 

De Prospo called for Ōtautahi to come together for this opportunity to see how much can be done when working together as a team. 

‘The Mother of all clean ups’ is only held in Ōtautahi and organisers encourage other towns and cities to pick up this event and raise awareness.