New Zealand

Girl’s Rubbish Taniwha reveals silage wrap pollution

A 12-year-old girl is calling out farmers who pollute waterways with plastic silage wrapping. 

Lauren Geer has taken a stand after finding 65 per cent of the rubbish floating down Pirongia’s Kaniwhaniwha stream was plastic waste from farms.

“I was shocked and a bit angry because I know it’s going to harm something,” Lauren said. “There was so much and I was quite cross about it.”

Silage is fermented, high moisture grass used to feed farm animals. It’s wrapped tightly in plastic or covered with a plastic sheet to reduce oxygen flow to the feed.

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Lauren Geer, 12, holds silage wrap caught in the Kaniwhaniwha River with her award winning invention the Rubbish Taniwha.

DOMINICO ZAPATA/STUFF

Lauren Geer, 12, holds silage wrap caught in the Kaniwhaniwha River with her award winning invention the Rubbish Taniwha.

It was in waterways, wrapped around trees, on fences, caught on rocks and left in heaps on farms. 

Frustration inspired her to engineer a water-based trap that catches rubbish floating downstream, aptly named the Rubbish Taniwha, to defend the waterways.

It won the Year 7 and 8 Junior Invention and the McGowan special award – Judges Choice at the NIWA Waikato Science and Technology Fair, in August. 

On average, it caught 2.8kg of debris a week – 65 per cent silage wrap, 30 per cent household rubbish and five per cent leaf litter.

At almost one meter wide, the cage is made of "some stronger-than-normal chicken wire type stuff and lots of cable ties".

DOMINICO ZAPATA/STUFF

At almost one meter wide, the cage is made of “some stronger-than-normal chicken wire type stuff and lots of cable ties”.

Downstream on Quarry Rd, Murray Anderson, 61, switched to recycling his wrap after two decades of burning the waste on his dairy farm.

His plastic off-cuts are neatly folded and placed in a large bag to be collected.

“It’s just a way to get rid of your rubbish,” Anderson said. “There’s only so many holes you can dig.

“The black smoke is not really a good look. The cost [of recycling] is not that bad really … and you sleep better at night.”

Silage wrap at the top of Quarry Rd.

DOMINICO ZAPATA/STUFF

Silage wrap at the top of Quarry Rd.

A few years ago a flood sent some poorly placed silage wrap floating downstream. It took a year to remove it from the waterway and his farm. 

You can’t catch every piece that flies off, but farmers aren’t the ones ruining the waterway, he said.  

“It’s the people up there swimming. They just biff their rubbish and go. It’s so frustrating, I’ve actually sworn at a few of them … and it’s getting worse every year.”

Farmers can recycle the wrap through Plasback.

Plasback programme manager Chris Hartshorne sells recyclable bin liners for $19.50 plus GST, which can fit 200kg of wrap inside and costs $40 plus GST per bag to collect.

MURRAY WILSON/STUFF

Plasback programme manager Chris Hartshorne sells recyclable bin liners for $19.50 plus GST, which can fit 200kg of wrap inside and costs $40 plus GST per bag to collect.

In the last financial year, 2,400 tonnes of plastic was recycled nationwide, programme manager Chris Hartshorne said.

About 90 per cent of that was silage wrap.

Approximately 40 per cent of silage film on the market is recycled – which means more than 3000 tonnes are burned, buried or go to landfills every year.

Waikato Regional Council allows the burning of silage wrap if the smoke doesn’t bother anyone surrounding the property, but a review is underway to change the late nineties policy to current standards.

Federated Farmers Waikato president Andrew McGiven says 436 tonnes of farming plastic was recycled last year - an increase of 40 per cent from 2017.

ANDREA FOX/STUFF

Federated Farmers Waikato president Andrew McGiven says 436 tonnes of farming plastic was recycled last year – an increase of 40 per cent from 2017.

Farmers could be more careful with silage disposal, but often the weather gets the best of them, Federated Farmers Waikato president Andrew McGivin said.

“A lot of the time it’s cut in the paddock where the bales are and they just heap there until a quiet time … it’s those little bits that are coming off those big piles. It [2.8kg] sounds like a lot … [but] it could be one bit of wrap or it could be lots of little bits of wrap.

Lauren agreed. “We need to take better care of our waterways, because we’ve only got one shot.”

Lauren's mother, Karen Geer, smiles proudly as they carry the Rubbish Taniwha back to the car.

DOMINICO ZAPATA/STUFF

Lauren’s mother, Karen Geer, smiles proudly as they carry the Rubbish Taniwha back to the car.


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