A revolting river of rubbish is engulfing Northland roadsides and damaging the region's clean green reputation.
While there's nothing new about some Northlanders flinging litter out their car windows, the problem appears to have worsened dramatically in recent months.
The filth is especially evident along Northland's main highways.
New health and safety rules, which have forced contractors to cut back on highway clean-ups, are thought to be part of the reason for the rising tide of trash.
Russell man Michael Beckett said a recent bus trip had given him a prime view of rubbish-filled roadside ditches all the way to Auckland.
''It was embarrassing being on that bus as a New Zealander and seeing everyone looking at the rubbish. We say we're clean and green but it's hypocritical. It's a disgrace,'' Beckett said.
Earlier this year Beckett drove thousands of kilometres through Canada but all the rubbish he saw would have fitted in a laptop case.
''Just on the drive from Whangārei to Kawakawa there's enough rubbish to fill a Four Square. If you went all the way to Kaitaia you'd fill a Pak 'n Save.''
It was clear from the type of rubbish, such as bottles and food wrappers, that most of it had been thrown from passing cars.
The former truckie said he was familiar with the state of Northland roads and was ''100 per cent sure'' the problem was getting worse.
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Beckett's fears for Northland's reputation, let alone the environment, were confirmed in a Facebook post this week by a first-time visitor to Paihia.
In a post which had attracted more than 150 comments by noon yesterday, Steve Jory said the amount of litter was ''unbelievable''.
''The road leading into town is strewn with bottles, cans, plastic and general rubbish. There was rubbish thrown into all the bush areas around town. We found it very sad for such a beautiful and historic piece of New Zealand,'' he wrote.
Bay Beach Clean, a volunteer group founded in 2012, had already scheduled a clean-up of SH11 around Opua this Saturday.
Founder member Rae Smythe, of Paihia, said the problem was ''absolutely'' getting worse.
''It's horrendous,'' she said.
The first time the group cleaned up SH11 between Paihia and Haruru Falls they filled a rubbish bag every 10m.
''We're picking up slightly less now but that's because we're cleaning up more often. We still pick up 20-30 bags over a 3km stretch of road, and that's not counting big things like TVs, mattresses and tyres.''
Smythe said the answer was public awareness. Her dream was to start a national clean-up day when everyone picked up rubbish along their piece of road frontage.
Beckett said he had contacted Fulton Hogan, the company contracted by the NZ Transport Agency to maintain Northland's state highways, about the amount of litter.
He was told new health and safety regulations introduced in March meant stricter traffic management had to be put in place before staff could do any work along state highways, including litter collection. As a result the company was not able to pick up litter as frequently as it used to, the email stated.
Beckett said ''over-zealous'' regulations were putting the environment at risk.
''All this rubbish ends up in the sea. They haven't got the balance right and we're paying the price.''
NZTA Northland manager Jacqui Hori-Hoult said highway contractors usually scheduled clean-ups while working on other road maintenance or operating under temporary traffic management to ensure the safety of road users and crews.
If a member of the public reported rubbish dumping at a specific location, the contractor would check it out and a decide how to clean it up.
Littering and rubbish dumping were ongoing problems in Northland. Contractors filled an average of 400 black bags a month as well as dealing with dumped domestic and commercial rubbish.
The direct clean-up costs to NZTA in Northland was about $78,000 a year.
Neither Fulton Hogan nor NZTA responded to enquiries yesterday about health and safety regulations causing a cut-back in highway clean-ups.
■ Meet at the Roadrunner Tavern on SH11, near Opua, at 9am tomorrow if you want to join the clean-up. Bring good shoes and bright/high-vis clothing. Gloves and bags provided.