Litter collection via watercraft

Hey all - I work for a small nonprofit that focuses on stewardship of our land and water trails in Pittsburgh and I’m looking for some advice. We recently purchased a small fleet of kayaks and canoes to help us do litter collection along the rivers and I’m wondering what tools or method others have found to work best. Currently we use 5 gallon buckets and litter pickers for our land based cleanups but I’m hoping to move away from the buckets and move over to an easier to store/use method. I’ve seen mesh bags but I’m hesitant to do this due to risk of being injured by sharp litter and I’ve also seen collapsible pop up bags which is what I’m leaning towards currently. Any insight would be greatly appreciated! Thank you!


I have only used canoes for river clean up. Helpful equipment; long and short handled nets and or a yard rake, rubber gloves and heavy-duty contractors’ garbage bags. I put big stuff like coolers on the floor of the canoe small stuff in bags or also on the floor of the canoe. You will have trouble collecting much trash with kayaks.


We do annual cleanups on the upper Patuxent and almost exclusively use canoes and contractor trash bags.

Trash 2
The county supplied a boat so we were able to periodically offload the canoes rather than ferry the trash back to the landing when they filled up.

SOTs and rec boats can only carry a limited amount of trash and sea kayaks are almost useless. We’ve carried six tires and other trash in bags until we only had a few inches of freeboard in the canoe.

A boat hook or an extendable fishnet are useful.

Heavy gloves. If getting out on land boots and long pants. We do the cleanup in early April before the foliage gets heavy, so water temperature appropriate clothing.


Hi, Ash-Mart21. Which group are you with here in Pittsburgh? I’ve been a regular volunteer with Tireless/Allegheny Cleanways /Dumpbusters, especially on cleanups along the river banks.

I kayak frequently on the Mon, Allegheny and Yough and usually carry a long-handled fishnet and a heavy duty garbage bag. But I have been thinking also about what sort of carrier might work for more serious collection from a paddle craft. One though I had was zip-tying hard foam “pool noodles” around the sides of a perforated plastic laundry basket that could be towed behind a single kayak. I’ve used the collapsible pop-up bags you mention for years for transporting paddling and camping gear but the mesh in them is pretty fragile and tends to tear. Also they deform easily with anything heavy in them and could collapse and sink. I suspect they would cause considerable drag being towed. I know all too well what sort of junk we usually pull out of the rivers here and I don’t think those would be any better than the floppy mesh bags. It is a complicated problem since you want to contain everything from small wads of soggy food wrappers to large jagged scraps of metal machinery and broken glass. So you need something that floats but maintains structural integrity and won’t get bogged down with water. Plastic snow sleds with some drain holes in them might work with some added flotation. The towing arrangement would have to be something that put the containers handy for the trash gatherers so that adds to the design issues. Might be feasible to make rafts of multiple noodles plus buckets or baskets to tow behind the boats.

I did invent a trash hauling “litter” for use in land cleanups after some experiences we had trying to move bulky items like tires and car parts and broken appliances some distance along trails or down steep banks. I’ll attach a sketch I made of it – I call it a “con-tarp-tion”. I used a canvas tarp from Harbor Freight Tools that has blue rubberized coating on one side, and 1/2" diameter braided sheath rope (also from HFT). I cut the tarp in half so one piece was about 4’ x 6’ . I folded in the corners, then folded over and stitched tunnels around all four sides that were open at each corner. Then I ran the rope through the tunnel all the way around, pulling 6" long loops out of each corner, and stitched the ends of the rope securely together.

This can be used in several ways. Heavy bulky items can be stacked on it on the ground and then 2 to 4 people can carry it by grabbing one or 2 corners each, like carrying a rescue litter. The canvas is strong and the rubber coating means that messy loads don’t saturate it. The wide soft rope doesn’t cut into the carriers’ hands like straps and bucket handles. One person can carry large loads with this by pulling the rope loops out to create a large drawstring sack of the tarp that can be filled and then carried like a shoulder bag or backpack with the long loops as straps. The loops can also have a rope or strap or chain run through them so the filled tarp can be lowered down a steep embankment or off a bridge, like the cargo nets they used to use to offload ships. The material is strong and stiff enough that jagged material doesn’t poke through.

I’ve used this con-tarp-tion myself at home too for yard work, hauling heavy brush clippings. mulch and even gravel with it. And the beauty of it for storage is that it can be rolled up and stashed in a trunk or under a car seat and takes up very little room. I’ve hosed mine off several times and just left it hanging overnight to dry. You could put 30 of these in a car trunk that might only fit 4 five gallon buckets. I could sew a few for you if you like the thing and if HFT still sells the rubberized tarp. Could also make them from regular canvas tarps but the nice thing about the rubber coated one is that it makes the rope slide more easily in the edge tunnels since the rubber coating is rolled inside the hems.

I do have several types of the plastic laundry baskets, totes and hampers (and I always have a stash of pool noodles since they are so handy for so many kayaking applications). I’ll cobble together some contraptions and see if anything seems to be feasible. If the weather cooperates over the next week I did plan to kayak (probably the Mon) and maybe I can try some versions and let you know what might work.

Anyway, send me a PM if you want to contact me directly. Just click on my avatar icon and the blue “message” button). We probably know some folks in common.

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