What do tea pots, pigs' skulls, dolls and beach umbrellas have in common? Well not a lot, except these are some of the many random items sneaky Whangarei residents have been disposing of in our hidden public areas.

Love Whangarei Monthly Clean Up is an event carried out by a group of volunteers, driven by F.O.R.C.E (For Our Real Clean Environment) who set out each month to clean up a selected area around Northland. Since its inception 16 months ago, almost 200 volunteers have collected 9,160kg of rubbish from 19 locations.

Longtime Whangarei residents Nicolas Connop and partner Karen Lee are behind F.O.R.C.E and both are passionate enough about keeping their environment clean they decided to make a difference.

"Growing up in Onerahi, I loved the whole place - the beaches, the bush, our little big city and all the interesting tucked away gems," says Nick. "I've always had an interest in the nature around us and have tried to look after it as best I can.

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"It's really disappointing to see so much rubbish out there. It is bad enough as it is with the issues regarding recycling and waste, let alone people just throwing it into the environment. It affects so many animals and, in turn, affects us too. Somebody has to do something. We're not just complaining about it, we're doing something about it."

The pair began the Love Whangarei Monthly Clean Ups in February last year, which steadily accrued volunteers and sponsorship, before forming F.O.R.C.E. - a charitable trust which aims to empower the Whangarei district community to protect the natural environment through environmental and waste minimisation projects.

Says Karen: "I started the clean-ups because I wanted to see less talk and more action on the issues that face our environment. Picking up rubbish is something everyone can do and it makes a big difference to the environment, animals and, in turn, us."

The targeted areas are often neglected and hidden and, so far, the clean-ups have included areas such as Otangarei, Onerahi Beach and Lookout, Waipu Walkabout, Mackesy Rd, Dragonfly Springs and Ngunguru Snell Point mangroves.

The clean-up sometimes involves planting in conjunction with themed weeks such as Keep NZ Beautiful Week with voluntary teams comprising both locals and even overseas visitors working in collaboration with council and various organisations, supporters and sponsors.

In certain locations, it's not unusual for the team to fill the back of a truck with half a tonne of rubbish – which gets weighed at ReSort with the disposal paid for by Whangarei District Council (WDC) - during the two hours of their event.

And says Nick, you'd be surprised at what some of our locals are dumping.

"There's the usual car tyres – we find a lot of them – and car parts, washing machines and driers, bikes, food packaging, tvs, computers, microwaves, beds and mattresses, but we've also had some rare finds … a working watch, full wallet, a china dog, bags of undersized paua …"

They've also unearthed three vials of used needles during the Mackesy Rd clean-up, marina pole mooring floats, disposed bundles of papers and pamphlets from two years ago and a number 36 letter box.

Then there's been couches and chairs, heaters, an anchor, bike helmets, strollers, road cones, nerf bullets, a Buzz Light Year action figure, tennis and golf balls, large batteries, a hot water cylinder, dolls, a bbq plate, spade, pocket knife, a scanner, lawn mowers, underwear, a clothesline, exercise equipment, swimming pools, a myriad of dead animals, kitchenware and even a toilet arrow sign.

And let's not forget the 1980s bottles of coke, Fanta and L&P, plus the faded salt and vinegar chip packet still intact 24 years after its contents expired, which made headlines last year.

"If you just put it in the environment it's just going to sit there," Nick said after the discovery.

"Although plastic bags are often found, we generally find more in the way of products like chip and biscuit packets, packaging, such as polystyrene and plastic wrap and an astounding amount of bottles."

A fair amount of detective work is carried out too: "If we find details in the rubbish dumped, we report it back to WDC to follow up. And if we find property that has been lost of potentially stolen and disposed of, I try to get in contact with the owner or take it to the police," says Nick, adding that he never names and shames over social media.

The next event is cleaning up the Parihaka summit on June 8.

"With the new local (Sport Northland Parihaka Trail Run/Walk) fun run event happening around here the following day, we think it would be a great idea to put in a bit of mahi and clean up the place and find those hidden cavities that are hidden in the bush."

Adds Karen: "It makes us so sad to see the amount of rubbish dumped on this special maunga. So, with Matariki approaching and the new trail run the next day, we thought this was the perfect time for another clean-up. We welcome any and all to come along to our clean-up events."