Each time I see the dark tongue of silt from our awa curling around the water off Castlecliff Beach I remember what the flood of 2015 washed out of the awa, sending it along Castlecliff Beach.
Each time I take part in a beach clean-up I feel sad that our waterways still receive what people throw away.
During the 2015 flood the awa got rid of what people in our throw-away society had thrown into it, or on to its banks. The flooded awa had a clean-out!
Castlecliff Beach ended up with three fridges and fridge/freezers it didn't want. These we filled with some of the heaps of polystyrene the awa also got rid of.
We wondered why the fridge and freezer owners had not recycled.
We wondered if the polystyrene had been packaging and just thrown "away" into the awa. We thought of biodegradable products that could have been used instead.
To remove this took dozens of volunteers, quad bikes, trailers and finally DoC's four-wheel-drive ute.
After the flooding, many Castlecliff residences began accumulating plastic and non-degradable rubbish into piles above high tide, but realised this was too big for individuals. Clean-up days with locals and friends not affected by the flooding were organised.
It took five days to collect, transport to the Recycling (Resource) Centre and transfer centre (and we appreciated the help they gave us).
People volunteered time and effort because they were concerned about the effects leaving this waste on the beach would have on fish, sea mammals and other marine creatures. We knew polystyrene and other plastics we found would break up until they were small enough to be ingested by marine life, but they take hundreds of years to truly decompose (although it is hard to know exactly how long decomposing takes, because plastic hasn't been around long enough). So think hard when you throw away a plastic toothbrush, straw or lollipop stick.
Also bacteria, some disease-forming, become attached to discarded plastic and get ingested by animals.
Air still inside plastics can make it hard or impossible for sea creatures to dive. This is especially hard on turtles that dine on jelly fish and mistake plastic bags for food! On the surface of the sea they get sunburnt and starve.
No one has taught wild creatures the tragic result of eating plastics or feeding them to their young.
While thinking about rubbish clean-ups, I acknowledge the rubbish collecting scheme WDC runs and the guys who pick up illegal rubbish dumped within 24 hours of my phone call.
In New Zealand, keeping our clean, green image requires improvements in Reducing, Repurposing, Reusing, Redesigning and Recycling. We need to think more about the things we buy and what we buy them in. We need to think do we really need this? When we must buy, remember Whanganui is blessed with many second-hand shops, the RUA at the WhEB, a recycling centre and many crafty people.
It's important to realise China has stopped taking plastics for recycling. Some plastics, our paper, cardboard and glass are recycled in New Zealand, but recycling centres are now storing bales of plastic waste. More innovative ways are needed in NZ to use this stuff.
So buy wisely, use well and remember "it's not where you take things from but where you take them to that counts". Becoming more important is what where you take them does with them.
■ Lyn Pearson is an active member of Sustainable Whanganui, Progress Castlecliff and Castlecliff Coast Care and tries to understand how best to care for our environment.