DIY Reclaimed Litter Picker

Summary: Make your own litter picker and re-usable bag with integrated bag hoop with basic tools and cheap materials

DIY litter picker

Since working from home, I take a lunchtime walk around the local footpath most week days.

When you walk every day you notice the little things. I noticed some litter every now and then, especially the day after the recycling is collected, so I started taking a litter picker out once or twice a week and collecting what I saw.

I had a cheap-ish litter picker that I bought a couple of years ago, and I wanted a bag hoop to make it easier to collect whatever I found. The only one I could find was bulky, plastic and quite expensive at around £15.

After a couple of weeks I was fed up with the bag hoop and figured I could make something better.

I also didn’t want to be throwing away a plastic bag every time I did a litter pick, so I found an alternative.

Eco Friendly DIY Litter Picker

My kids were showing an interest in helping pick up litter when we went to the local park, or on a local walk. The litter picker I had was made of cheap plastic and metal, the type of mass produced product that I didn’t want to buy any more of.

Around this time, we were redecorating a bedroom in our house, which involved laying laminate flooring. I had some off-cuts that were going to be taken to the recycling centre.

I decided to try and make something useful with the off cuts and the first thing that sprang to mind was a litter picker.

The first few designs involved thin sections of flooring bolted together at one end, like a giant pair of tweezers. I was able to pick things up, but they became mis aligned fairly easily, and drilling and bolting the pieces together was an extra couple of steps.

After a few iterations I wanted to try a new design made from one piece of wood, so I found some cheap, second hand plywood, complete with nails and plenty of rough edges. The 110cm x 80cm x 1.4cm sheets were a few pounds each on eBay and were collected from the back entrance of a local warehouse.

This is what I ended up with:


It’s a one piece design that almost anyone can make out of cheap, used plywood using only a saw and some sand paper. If you’ve got a jig saw it takes about a minute to cut it out of a 14mm thick sheet of plywood and another couple of minutes to sand off the edges at the handle end.

Here are the approximate dimensions if you want to make your own:

  • Length: 75cm
  • Width at handle end: 2.5cm
  • Width of opening: 8cm
  • Thickness of each arm: 1cm

I’d recommend experimenting with different lengths and thicknesses, let me know if you find a better design!

I also made some shorter pickers for my kids.  We made the handle ends into an owl and a bear and had fun painting them.

Fragility as a Feature, not a bug

The poor quality wood and the hand cut shape means they tend to break if you’re not gentle.

The shorter they are, the closer you are to the handle, so the more force you need to apply to make the tips close tightly enough on the litter. Also, the kids tend to be a little harsh on theirs, so we’ve had to fix them a couple of times.

I think of this as a feature, not a bug. It’s teaching the kids to repair things instead of chucking them out.

I’ve also made a couple of customisations to my picker. I added a magnet near the tip, to help pick up wire and screws. If you’ve got a telephone junction box in your neighbourhood, you might find lots of little bits of wire scattered around it by careless engineers, a magnet helps pick them up quickly and easily.

If you don’t fancy making your own litter picker, I’ve found a decent alternative. Waterhaul make a litter picker from recycled fishing nets (and one from recycled PPE) which I’ve used and can recommend. I’ve got the version that folds in half, it makes it really easy to secure to the back of my bike, or to chuck in my bag when I walk to the surf.

Re-usable Bag With Integrated Bag Hoop

Next, I needed an alternative to the bulky plastic bag hoop and plastic bags I was using.

re-usable litter picker bag with integrated bag hoop

I found a re-usable produce bag from Turtle bags. It’s made from Organic cotton, certified under the Global Organic Textile Standard (GOTS). No chemical pesticides or fertilisers are used in the production of the fabric and the farmers work in safe conditions with an agreed minimum wage.

They’re available in a few sizes. I use the medium size for my daily litter pick and the large size if I’m going to the beach after a storm or anywhere else I think I’ll need more capacity.

I keep it open by threading a re-used piece of waste packaging strapping through the draw string loop at the top. It’s flexible enough to fold it into a pocket on my backpack, but stiff enough to easily hold the mouth of the bag open for anything I find.

When I get home to my wheelie bin for household waste, or when I find a bin on my walk, I invert the bag using the litter picker into the bin. The cotton bag can be washed when necessary, but I usually just hang it up in the garage for next time.

The holes in the cotton net bag are small enough that small items like screws or cigarette butts don’t fall out, but it does let any liquid or sand out easily.

Always Be Picking

Since making the effort to make my own litter picking kit, I’m more conscious of litter when I see it. It’s much harder to ignore it when you’re aware of it.

I’ve come up with a mantra, based on a classic line from Glengarry Glen Ross:

A – Always
B – Be
P – Picking

Now I try and take the picker and a bag everywhere I go. I get lots of positive comments from people I see, especially when my kids are picking too. And, my local footpath is tidier than ever.

Next Steps

My plan now is to mount a GoPro camera to my picker and use it to record video with embedded GPS data which will allow me to identify what I pick up and plot it on a map.

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