This little box has changed my life, has given me some hope, has renewed my belief in people. This little box can change the world. I know that sounds like a bunch of bull. “His head is in the clouds again,” some will say. “He is listening to that 60’s Psychedelic Rock again,” others might say. By the time you read this, you may agree with me. You will have sawdust in your garage, and mud on your boots, and cardboard boxes with hundreds of orange bags in the back of your van. I hope so for the sake of our beautiful rivers.
In 2021 I was introduced to the onion Bag Box. A simple box made from scrap wood or inexpensive wood with a little stain added. In that box we stuff a few mesh “onion” bags. It seems to me we should call them potato bags, because they would hold two years worth of onions for my house. When someone passes the box on the way to the water with their boat, they grab a bag and use it for their litter. When they reach their destination, the empty it in the proper garbage and recycle cans or take it home for disposal. They can return the bag to another box or better yet keep it in their boat for further adventures on the water. The bags last for several trips, and some even several years.
Why the onion bag, you may ask? It is sturdy and when, not if, your boat tips and you go for a swim, you litter swims all together. When you get a chance you grab the bag out of the water and paddle on. There are those of you that might say that they don’t tip their boat. If you collect enough litter in that bag, you just might. Just kidding! These bags are durable and can last you for at least a year in your boat, maybe longer. If you look around you will find deals on the bags to save a few bucks.
Stephen J. Fleming, one of the founders of Paddle for Heroes started this project. He got the idea from paddling on the Buffalo National River in 2019. The National Park Service does not allow plastic trash bags on the river, so “The outfitter we used to spot our vehicles gave each member in our group an onion litter bag. He then proceeded to explain, when you are on a river with small rapids, there is a higher chance of paddlers flipping their watercraft. Unlike plastic bags, which tend to rip open and become litter; onion bags when secured properly to your craft will not rip open and spill trash into the water.” stated Stephen. He also noticed that a group close to his home was using these bags on the Sturgeon River. He contacted Lori Totman the Knox County Park District Director, and the rest is history.
Starting on the Mohican River, Paddle for Heroes has expanded to the Kokosing River, the Walhounding, Tuscarawas, and Muskingum Rivers. We have also placed boxes at Knox, Kokosing, and Alum Creek lakes. We also help other groups in starting their own projects. Currently the Mahouning and Cuyahoga Rivers have projects started, and the Lower Olebtangy and Little Miami are exploring the project.
These boxes are easy to make. I use cedar 6 foot fence boards from Lowes. I cut them into 16 inch long pieces. The sides have a 15 degree slope for the foot to drain water. I use nails, or brads, or screws to put them together. I made a single wide model and a double wide model. The single holds about 20 bags, the double about 60. If you don’t want to check them often to refill, then the double wide’s are for you. I use stain on the boards to help preserve them, and then put signs on each box instructing people how to use to the bags. The boxes are about $30.00 to make this way, but you can save lots of money by using pallet boards. I also buy a landscape timber to mount them on. I use one big bolt in the back to hold the box on the pole, and one screw to keep it from being crooked on the pole.
How to pay for all of this? We have used money out of our general budget to build the boxes so far, but now we are seeking sponsorships for the bags we put in the box each year. The average cost per box is about 50 dollars a year for bags. In three weeks, I was able to get sponsors for all the boxes in Knox County, and we have not solicited any corporate or business money, yet! People were glad to give $50 dollars to sponsor a box. For each sponsor we placed a sign on the side of the box showing who the sponsor was. I hope this works out and is sustainable for the future.
Any assistance I can give to any groups interested in this project and trying to do it on a river close to you, I am more than willing to help. Contact me through my email at email@example.com or Facebook at Curtis Casto. I would love to see these boxes every time I come close to a river. When I am on the water, I sing to myself, with the John Lennon tune, Imagine, I sing “Imagine all the rivers, free of litter, only clean clear water, it’s easy if you try” We could make that come true. We can return out rivers to what they were 200 years ago.