How To Make A Trash Stick

How To Make A Trash Stick

Photo by Zachary BraniganPhoto by Zachary Branigan


We love a nice sunny warm day don’t we? I mean, who doesn't? Turns out, Heliophobics do, apparently. At any rate, one of the great parts of spring is walking in the sun, with a bit of crisp still lingering in the air from the winter. But in this massive melt, there is an unsightly nuisance that emerges...trash!  After the snow melts off of the sidewalks and roadside embankments, it reveals the remnants of the disposable bits of crap and junk that was there when it snowed, or blew into a snow drift during one of the many bomb cyclone storms we endured during the past season.  

It may be tempting to look at this rubbish scattered along the roads and sidewalks, and nature trails and passively think, “I'm sure someone is gonna get right on that…”. And in most cases, you may be correct about that. A lot of municipalities have street sweeping programs and even volunteer litter clean up days, which I highly recommend you involve yourself in. 

But one morning, my partner and I decided to take matters into our own hands and start picking up the trash we saw in a proactive manner. We grabbed some gloves, a trash bag, and custom-made trash sticks, and set off. 

We encountered Slim Jim wrappers, Powerade bottles, broken off pieces of automobile trim, a hubcap, empty liquor bottles, fast food bags, and so much more. We made it about three quarters of a mile in 30 minutes, and filled an entire 20 gallon trash bag. Knowing we could no longer accept any more of anyone else’s trash (quite literally), we turned back and headed home. 

There are many reasons why so much litter exists. A common reason that comes to mind for a lot of people is apathy. Do some people really not care about littering? It certainly seems so! Just the other day I witnessed someone deliberately throw a straw wrapper out of their car window, as if the road was their personal trash can. And let’s not forget about all those cigarette butts out there. Out of all of the litter that’s out there, cigarette butts make up 38%. THIRTY EIGHT PERCENT! That’s more than one third of all of the litter out there. Made up from one and quarter inch long pieces of cellulose acetate, a plastic material, and contain hundreds of toxic chemicals, and takes more than 10 years to decompose. 

Another reason is wind 🌬. Wind can blow garbage around all over the place. Specifically our home and businesses waste when that trash is not properly disposed of into a trash bag, and tied up, so that it can’t get out. Loose trash in garbage cans are easy prey for wind to scatter about when the trash trucks come around to take it from your curbside, and your wheelie bin goes up on it’s fun little ride upside down into the mass collection. In that moment, any loose bits of rubbish can be blown away by the wind and swept away into nature. 

There’s plenty of preventative measures that we can do to limit our littering in the first place. But this piece is about the aftermath of all the trash strewn about, and what we can do about it. A trash stick is a very easy to make and very useful tool for the mitigation of litter. You can pick up small to large pieces of trash without having to bend over every two seconds. It is my weapon of choice in the war on rubbish.

Here’s how to make your very own, personalized trash picking up stick. 

Locate a decent sized diameter dowel rod from your hardware store.

I picked my dowel up from a local Bay City surplus hardware store called Larson’s Salvage. I got this large, almost 8 foot long, 5/8ths in diameter dowel for 3 dollars. Can’t beat it!

Determine the length of the dowel you’ll need.

I like to think of the height necessary similarly to how tall of a bike you need to ride comfortably. About hip height is about where you’re going to want it. It gives you maximum pick up range, without having to bend over as much, saving your back. It also gives you a nice bit of reach if you have to get some stubborn trash in some shrubs.

Cut the dowel to length

Generally, I’d use my electric powered miter saw for cutting anything on a straight line like this. But seeing as it’s just a little dowel, and in the spirit of using less energy in a eco-friendly way, I’m gonna opt for a hand saw instead.

Install the barbs on one end of the trash stick.

The barbs are the little pokey bits at the end of the stick that help to pick up the litter off the ground easier. I use a common nail. Line it up nice and centered in the middle, if you’re using one nail, or create a double barb, or triangle barb if you’re using more than one nail.

Cut the heads off the barb nails

Once the nails are installed, you’ll need to make them just a little bit sharp, so they can stick into those more rigid plastics and thicker corrugated cardboards or coated paper boards easier. Depending on the thickness of your nail barb, you should be able to get away with cutting the end off with a pair of pliers, leaving you with a semi-sharp barb. You may choose to file it down for a sharper end.

PLEASE BE CAREFUL. Whatever you decide to do with this, please use absolute caution so you don’t hurt yourself or others with your trash stick.
Customize (bedazzle) it!

Your stick is now ready to pick up trash! You can choose to stop here and go do the damn thing, or you can decide to give your trash stick a bit of flare. This also helps to differentiate your trash stick from others, if you are storing them together with your friends or family’s trash sticks. 

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