Watson said he had since cleaned about 500 beaches and spots along the road, collecting a total of 45 to 50 tons of trash.
He estimated that 85 to 90 percent of that waste was plastic.
On some of his final stops along Ninety Mile Beach late last week, Watson said he was shocked by what he found.
He said he collected hundreds of items, many of which were microplastics.
“And I found three dead little blue penguins along the short area where I walked,” Watson said.
“We need to look at what we’re doing, our oceans are choking in plastic, which I feel comes from the land a lot.”
“All waterways lead to the ocean, which I believe is the heart of this planet.
“I feel sorry for future generations because what we are doing on this planet is not sustainable. The young people will inherit that.”
Watson began his journey nearly four years ago with an inheritance of $40,000, which he used to set up a truck and trailer for him to sleep in.
He resigned, founded Kiwis Clean Aotearoa and started work on the first day of 2019.
He only had $17,000 to fund his ambitious mission, so he knew he needed help.
Then he set up a fundraising page and invited people to help or support his work with a donation.
Watson said he was guided by the idea that “the biggest threat to the planet is the belief that someone else will fix it”.
“We can all do our bit. When you go for a walk, take a bag and do your best to collect what you can. It doesn’t have to be every day or every week,” he said.
“This is not just the municipality’s problem.”
Watson said he has encountered unexpected challenges over the years, as well as heartwarming support from people of all ages.
“Getting rid of the waste is the hardest thing I’ve been through,” he said.
“When I come to a new region, I contact the municipality, explain what I’m doing and ask if they can help clear up the waste.
“The answer wasn’t always yes, which was a bit shocking.”
His Givealittle page has received more than $54,000 in donations, the latest from someone who has seen him clean Coopers Beach.
In the Mangamukas, he claimed he came across a “fly dump site” where it appeared that waste had been illegally dumped for years.
With the help of a few locals, Watson said that “460kg of dirt was taken from the beautiful native bush”.
At Long Bay and Te Kouma, Coromandel, he saw a pattern of neatly cut strips of plastic rope – a byproduct of harvesting mussels.
Watson said he often found waste created by fishing, including oyster farm pegs, cable ties and fishing lines.
‘But I don’t do fishermen; my father was a fisherman.’
Among the at least 38,000 pounds of plastic he collected, Watson explained that he had also found many nurdles — tiny plastic pellets, the mostly unknown building block for all plastic products.
Experts agree that they cause as much damage as oil spills.
Watson also cleaned roadsides to prevent litter from entering stormwater drains and eventually into the sea.
“People are still throwing garbage out of car windows. I don’t think it’s understood that this is contaminating our food chain and destroying marine life.”
Among the trash along the road, he found shredded plastic bottles, bits of Styrofoam, and rotting plastic bags—all of which appeared to have been mowed down.
He said he believed health and safety regulations prevented the mower operators from climbing off to collect debris in their path, but wondered if a practical solution could not be found.
“There’s a price to pay for everything, isn’t there? What about the health and safety of our oceans?”
Some rides were harder than others, he said.
In Gentle Annie, near his hometown of Westport, Watson had transported miles of trash—including some tires—to remove it from shore.
“It was a huge effort.”
Along the waterfront in Wanaka, Watson said he saw two young men collecting trash.
He said he asked for their photo to be taken to share on his Facebook page, and later donated $50 to each of them for their efforts. He felt he was “just paying it in advance”.
Over the weekend, Watson began his journey south to rest and spend some time with his mother.
He said he remained open to the possibility of continuing his work for planetary health.
“I’ve done my best to raise awareness of the problem in our country. And I don’t want to make money from this, I just want to get by.”
He now has to have the brakes of his truck serviced and money for petrol and a ferry ticket.
• To donate to Watson’s cause, visit: givealittle.co.nz/cause/kiwis-clean-aotearoa.
– Northern lawyer