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The ultimate tidy Kiwi

Picking up rubbish from Bluff to Cape Reinga.

Des Watson has travelled New Zealand for two years and picked up 25 tonnes of rubbish by hand.

He is on an environmental mission to clean up New Zealand. Travelling from Bluff to Cape Reinga, Des collected 15 tonnes of rubbish in the South Island and has already weighed in 10 more tonnes halfway through the North Island.

This week Des is in Gisborne where he will spend his 41st birthday on Thursday the same way he did last year — picking up other people's rubbish.

He is staying at the Waikanae Top 10 Holiday Park, which provided a campsite for free to support his mission.

“It's a pretty massive job to undertake but if no one does it then where are we going?”

The amount of rubbish he sees in gutters and on the side of roads is “horrendous” he says.

And he knows if it doesn't get picked up, it will get mowed up, chopped up, and in the next rain will enter waterways through drains, to reach the sea.

“That's why I'm doing what I'm doing, I feel like I am doing something constructive for New Zealand and the environment in general.”

Des says with climate change and the amount of plastic in the oceans he is not feeling optimistic “on the current path we are taking”.

“Everything is wrapped in plastic or made out of plastic.

“I spend a bit of my time concentrating on the stuff in the gutters and drains. I see this stuff going into waterways that then goes out to our oceans. That then contributes to the eight million tonnes of waste already going into our oceans every year.”

On Saturday morning, in the 300 metres between the holiday camp and the railway lines in Gisborne, he picked up around 400 pieces of rubbish. On Sunday, he collected more than 1000 items at the mouth of the Waipaoa River.

This is not uncommon, he says. But neither is getting help along the way, so he appreciates the extra pairs of hands who join him.

His biggest peeve is polystyrene pieces used for packaging like the balls that fill bean bags.

He sees them blowing around, floating in drains and when it rains, he knows they will be washed out to sea.

Picking these up by hand is time-consuming so he carries with him a Ryobi wet and dry portable vacuum cleaner for such occasions.

The vacuum cleaner was paid for by businesses who have sponsored him.

Des quit his job in Blenheim two years ago to undertake this mission. He has funded himself through a small inheritance from his father but that has already run out.

Now he shares his story in the hope more businesses will jump on board.

“After I have finished this journey I plan on writing a book about it — the ups and downs, the amazing people and places I've been to, and also the horror of what I have been finding.

“I was thinking about calling it Plastic in Paradise, or something along those lines.”

Des feels not enough is being done by government legislation to curb the flow of rubbish produced by big corporations.

For example, plastic spoons and forks given out by multimillion-dollar fast food companies that people throw out their car windows.

These get driven over and turn into 50 pieces of plastic that during the next rain get washed into drains, then out to sea.

“If Joe Bloggs at a local store can offer a sustainable solution then why can't the big corporations.”

He has also seen a lot of waste coming from transport companies — the main offenders when it comes to polystyrene and plastic shrink wrap packaging not disposed of properly.

Anyone who wants to support Des in cleaning up New Zealand can find his pages on Facebook and Instagram under Kiwis Clean Aotearoa.

He was inspired to do what he does through watching other people do similar things in New Zealand and around the world.

MAN ON AN ENVIRONMENTAL MISSION: Keep an eye out for Des Watson as he travels the country picking up rubbish. Des, who is in Gisborne this week, travels between spots in a trailer box which he can sleep in. It has solar panels on the roof to charge batteries that run his fridge/freezer. The sleeping compartment was built for him by an arborist in Nelson, and there have been other examples of help from people who find out what he is doing. He described the amount of rubbish he sees in gutters and on the side of roads as 'horrendous'. Picture by Sophie Rishworth