Hundreds – if not thousands – of school students, public servants and volunteers are being marshalled with military precision this morning for operation “Clean Up the Cook Islands”.
Such is the scale of the operation nationally, equipment for the clean-up has been shipped to every outer island in preparation for today beach assault.
And on Rarotonga, every square metre of the islands coastal fringe – as well as adjoining streams and wetlands – will be scoured for trash from 8am.
A number of overseas tourists have volunteered to help, including the Fiji national women’s under-19 football squad.
Visitors are welcome to join in by making themselves known to the 10 sector coordinators at obvious locations around the island.
This annual beach clean-up is taking place on all of the Cook Islands today – and this year it’s a joint campaign between the National Environment Service and the Ministry of Health’s Operation Namu – the battle against the dengue fever carrying mosquito.
Environment Service senior officer Moana Tetauru says if past years are an indicator, today’s clean-up could gather up as much as five tonnes of garbage.
The trash will be collected by hand with every volunteer provided gloves and biodegradable bags – donated by CITC – sorted into various categories and collected by the Ministry of Infrastructure’s rubbish trucks and taken to the landfill where it will be either recycled or dumped.
The Ministry of Health will be overseeing the mosquito eradication part of the clean-up, looking out for any trash that could be considered a breeding site.
Tetauru says despite the road ways of Rarotonga being relatively rubbish free, it is the beach areas at the mouth of streams that are the major sources of trash that ends up on the beaches and in the lagoons.
Unfortunately, most of this rubbish comes from people wilfully throwing their trash over the banks of streams, or dumping their rubbish in secluded coastal areas.
Tetauru says the Clean Up is concentrating on glass bottles, plastic, paper and general waste – the volunteers will not be expected to collect illegally dumped whiteware items, batteries, TV and computer equipment and other electronic goods.
Asked how bad the wilful dumping of rubbish is, Tetauru points to the figures that show in 2015 6.8 tonnes was collected and in 2018, 7.5 tonnes.
The yearly average is between four and five tonnes –all collected in the one day.
As well as collecting rubbish, the NES will be collecting data which will be shared with both the health and infrastructure ministries for future planning for the management of waste in the Cook Islands.
The Cook Islands Clean Up is part of a global event. Last year 18 million people across 57 countries for the biggest waste collection day in human history.
Clean Up the World was established in 1993 and is one of the largest community-based environmental programs in the world.
Every year thousands of tons of garbage winds up in the oceans, with 60 per cent of that being composed of plastic material.