When Lauren Geer noticed rubbish flowing through her local river, she knew she needed to find a solution.
The Te Pahu School student has invented a rubbish collector, The Rubbish Taniwha, which has won three awards at the NIWA Waikato Science and Technology Fair.
Lauren came first in the Year 7 and 8 Junior Invention category, won the Judges Choice McGowan special award and scooped the award for Best Technology.
The 12-year-old is passionate about the environment and caring for animals.
She was playing with her friends at the Kaniwhaniwha Stream last summer when she noticed rubbish flowing through the water.
"It concerned me because rubbish pollutes our clean water and then ends up in our drinking water and kills freshwater fish and marine life."
So she got to work designing a solution, with the goal of presenting it at the Science and Technology Fair.
The Rubbish Taniwha — made from chicken wire and piping — traps rubbish in a collection chamber without catching or injuring eels or fish.
Rocks and fence standards hold the construction in place and the river current traps the rubbish.
It sits at the side of a river or stream, with the bottom of the opening just below the water.
Lauren says there are only rubbish collectors used in urban waterways at present on stormwater drains — none for rural waterways.
She says the success of the Rubbish Taniwha comes down to the width.
"While most rubbish collectors are long and thin, the Rubbish Taniwha is wide."
Lauren installed the first prototype in the Rangitukia Stream, which runs down the back of her family's property in Te Pahu.
"There was no rubbish caught but there was a lot of leaves and twigs," she says. "This showed me that from an early stage it could easily catch rubbish."
She then moved the contraption to the Kaniwhaniwha Stream.
"In the first 24 hours it had caught a shocking amount of rubbish including two large pieces of silage wrappers," she says.
The Rubbish Taniwha stayed in the river, catching about 2.8kg of rubbish each week — 65 per cent silage wrappers and 35 per cent household rubbish.
Lauren also successfully tested the invention in the Waikato River.
She has big dreams to take the design further and raise awareness about rural waste.
"I would love to see farmers, and other people who need a unique solution to their rubbish filled waterways, have access to this invention through Government funding.
"This product would also be useful for people who are concerned about the amount of rubbish near urban waterways."
NIWA freshwater ecologist Dr Amanda Valois says Lauren's invention and attitude towards waste reduction is inspiring.
"Young people, like Lauren, are more open to exploring waste and realising that everyone needs to work together to find solutions. Lauren is pioneering her own invention and it is epic. Waste management is a big problem and we need people to think outside of the box."