The annual Mother of All Clean Ups has grown to become a Christchurch institution since its inception in 2015. It began when Zac Cassells started noticing increasing amounts of rubbish in the Ōpāwaho/Heathcote River next to Cassells Brewery at the Tannery in Woolston and decided to take action. The clean up has expanded over the years and now covers the banks of both the Ōtākaro/Avon and Ōpāwaho/Heathcote Rivers as well as the edges of the Avon Heathcote Estuary. Conservation Volunteers is part of an organising committee made up of representatives from the Estuary Trust, the Avon/ Ōtākaro River Network, the Ōpāwaho /Heathcote Network, EOS Ecology, Drinkable Rivers, Cassells Brewery and City Care. Support comes from Christchurch City Council, the Rātā Foundation and Environment Canterbury, while the success of the event is thanks to hundreds of enthusiastic volunteers who turn out on the day.
Held each year on the first Saturday of May prior to Mother’s Day, the event attracts volunteers from more than 40 local organisations. While the total waste collected has trended downward impressively from over 7 tonnes in 2015 to 2.6 tonnes in 2021, the amount of rubbish in Christchurch’s waterways remains an ongoing issue. Common offenders include chip packets and plastic bottles and these are joined every year by larger items including shopping trolleys and discarded tyres. Booms placed in strategic locations along the Ōpāwaho/Heathcote River have contributed to the significant drop in the amount of rubbish collected by volunteers.
As with many events, the clean up has had to adapt to changing times, and over lockdown in 2020 the Mother of All Clean Ups: Home Edition was launched and attracted more than 200 entries. The brainchild of local river advocate, the late Evan Smith, this virtual competition gives residents and families the opportunity to learn about the city’s stormwater system.
The success of the main clean up encouraged the organising team to launch the Mother of All Clean Ups: Schools Edition in 2021. Operation River Quest took place prior to the weekend event with 1200 children from 20 schools taking part, collecting rubbish along the banks of streams and tributaries of the main rivers near their schools. They collated data about the rubbish they collected to inform meaningful actions for their local communities.
Another initiative for residents who want to do something tangible but are not able to volunteer on the day is the High Five Pick Up Five campaign. The concept is simple, challenging Christchurch residents to pick up five pieces of rubbish anywhere they find them in their local area. This prevents that rubbish from making its way into the city’s stormwater system and ultimately into the estuary.
The organising committee is aiming for local community groups to eventually take ownership of a patch of river or an area on the estuary and run their own regular clean-ups. We are well on the way to achieving this, but in the meantime the community atmosphere and participation of the hundreds of volunteers on the day continue to make this event a success.