First international internship experience on zero waste - in New Zealand!

Updated: Jul 10, 2020

Does working on Zero Waste projects in a different country sound interesting to you? Learn a bit more about this first experience of a Zero Waste Youth member in New Zealand!

In 2019 one of Zero Waste Youth’s coordinators, Laís Vidotto, went from Brazil to New Zealand for a big challenge: helping coordinate with Massey University’s Zero Waste Academy, a citizen science research project on plastic pollution. This experience was the first practical activity of the NIZAC - ‘Nexus for International Zero Waste Academic Collaboration (NIZAC)’.

Palmy’s Plastic Pollution Challenge

As a partnership between the Zero Waste Academy and Manawatu River Source to Sea, Palmy’s Plastic Pollution Challenge was created to address plastic pollution in Palmerston North City (Palmy) - New Zealand. The chosen methodology for this research project was the “citizen science approach”, where community had a fundamental participation on data collection, analysis and, afterwards, the strategy formation for the city.

The main goals of the project were:

  • To measure how intense is plastic pollution in the city catchment;

  • To mobilize and empower people and politicians for change;

  • To co-create and implement a plastic pollution strategy for the city.

In order to achieve these goals, the project was divided in 3 main stages: Data Collection, Data Analysis and Strategy Formation.

The active participation of schools, university students, the City Council, Entreprises, local Maori community and other community groups were essential for the success of the project. The message that was carried along the activities was that Plastic Pollution is a big issue, which we need to better understand and work together to find solutions for it. We are all responsible for waste generation, as well as we all want our waterways and oceans to be healthy and clean.


In total, around 300 citizens participated in clean-up events along the main urban streams. The groups were first guided through the scientific methodology and safety instructions, and than all litter from the randomly selected sample sites were collected.


After all litter collected was cleaned, volunteers helped to sort into different categories, count and weigh the items. Most of this activity occurred during a 2 week Easter holiday programme at the local museum of Art, Science and History - Te Manawa. This directly involved 230 children and adults volunteering to help, and a total of more than 800 visitors observing our exhibition and engaging in this learning process.

After finishing the data analysis, the team organised a public event where the results were presented to the community The event also included an artistic exhibition and a documentary about global plastic pollution.


In order to co-create a strategy for the city there were activities with the participating schools, an online consultation open to the community and a public strategy workshop event. The strategy workshop had the participation of councillors, local community leaders, members of the business and academy fields.

“This 7 month internship was an incredible experience. I got to work with inspiring people from whom I have learned a lot, not only about project management, scientific research and community engagement but also about purpose, empathy and teamwork. A huge thank you to everyone who was part of this journey, specially to Jonathon, Heike and Madz - hope to see you all soon!”

Author: Laís Vidotto

Environmental Engineering Student

Nature & Innovation Lover

Social & Environmental Activist