The Department of Conservation (DOC) said the massive and daunting clean up efforts on the West Coast through Operation Tidy Fox will likely finish the middle of this month, thanks to the outpouring of volunteer support and assistance.
After a massive flood tore through and damaged the Fox River legacy landfill site, DOC took over managing the clean-up efforts in June and launched a volunteer operation that pooled together a wealth of support from New Zealand residents and travellers alike. Wastebusters’ Suze Harris helped organise a team of 13 Wanaka locals, including nine from Wastebusters, to volunteer with Operation Tidy Fox during the last weekend in June. In exchange for work, the crew received accommodation, lunch and dinner.
“At that time, we were the biggest volunteer group they had experienced of 31 people,” said Harris. “We broke a record that day of filling up four massive fadges of rubbish. When we returned a few weeks later in July, there were 101 people and we filled up 13 fadges. In just a few weeks, the volunteer count quadrupled. In June, Operation Tidy Fox struggled to get 10 people to show up. Some volunteers had been there since the very beginning, which would have been very demoralising with four or five people. There was so much work to be done.”
The landfill closed about 20 years ago, but discovering the old rubbish materials that remained proved to be a sobering moment for the crew.
“...My steps began to creak in response to decades-old plastic buried beneath the branches. It was everywhere,” said Harris. “I asked the Wastebusters team what was the most difficult thing they saw during their volunteer experience. Aliss Curtis, who works in the front yard, said ‘seeing single-use plastics, such as plastic straws, still wrapped in their packaging and never used.’ The overall disturbing product was the amount of entangled bread bags and soft plastics in the mud and debris.”
After the Operation Tidy Fox experience, Harris, Wastebusters’ recycling truck driver, brought home sage advice to share with her community. “We work at Wastebusters, so we see it all. We do our best to know where our plastic is going and that it’s being recycled, but it is hard to keep on top of Wanaka’s rate of plastic consumption. We are one small community but we produce a lot of waste. It’s easy to forget about it after putting it in a bin, but we see what’s offloaded every single day. We need to make changes, no matter how subtle, to our habits as consumers. You do not need to cut out all plastics completely out of your life, but make small changes.”