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Plastic in all shapes and sizes on beach

A beach audit by the Tairawhiti Environment Centre (TEC) found more than 130 plastic items littered along the 100m stretch of Waikanae Beach.

“Auditing is done in specific categories of waste,” said TEC hub support coordinator Stephanie Temple.

“If it's plastic, we try to identify what type of plastic it is, like is it recreational, like toys, or an unidentifiable fragment, and then everything gets weighed and counted,”

In more than five hours of the survey, conducted last Friday, citizen scientists collected 218 items that together weighed nearly 20kg. Plastics alone constituted 64 percent of the total waste in all the items audited.

Ms Temple said the biggest worry was that the plastics like polystyrenes that are used for packaging stuffs usually break down into tiny bits. Often birds pick up these little plastic pieces to make their nest, which is troublesome.

“That's why we did the survey on Friday to tie it with the plastic free month of July to spread awareness that plastic comes in all shapes and sizes,” Ms Temple said.

Plastic Free July is a global movement led by the Plastic Free Foundation that started in 2011 with many committing to reducing plastic pollution far beyond the chosen month of July.

The data collected from the Waikanae Beach audit is uploaded to Litter Intelligence — a programme led by New Zealand-based charity Sustainable Coastlines. The programme's objective is to provide insight from the available data and inspire action for a litter-free Aotearoa.

She said that with the help of the uploaded data the Environment Centre could find out what were the types of rubbish found in different regions, and then compare it with other sites, and look for solutions.

While the centre only audits Waikanae Beach, other schools have been trained to do surveys and audits in different sections of local beaches.

“At this point Sustainable Coastlines is providing the training, teaching you how to carry out the survey and do an the audit. So any person wanting to, can be trained and can adopt a place to do the audit.

“The more people who do it, the better,” Ms Temple said.

Once trained, people are supplied with three boxes of kit provided by Sustainable Coastlines that includes safety equipment like gloves, high-viz vests, bags and containers to conduct the survey and audit.

“Awareness is the key. We might think we are doing the right thing when using public rubbish bins even, but if the bin is full, or there is lots of wind, light items like plastics will end up on the beach again.

“While this is the case for most regions, we are fortunate that the council has got some smart bins placed with camera installed which monitor the amount of waste disposed,” Ms Temple said.

Other rubbish items picked up by the citizen scientists included man-made construction materials and timber.

LITTER COUNT: Young citizen scientists collected nearly 20kg of rubbish for the quarterly audit at Waikanae Beach. From left are Tasmin Ryan, 8, Jasmine Graham, 9, Cass Ryan, 11, Molly Coker, 8, Otis Hepburn-Vanzyl, 12 and Finn Coker, 12. Picture by Liam Clayton