ISLE OF PALMS, S.C. (WCSC) – A few steps off the public access boardwalk, a stone’s throw from Coconut Joe’s restaurant you’ll find an unassuming white wooden pole lined with several metal hooks – each holding a white plastic bucket.
You may be wondering at first glance what this setup is for and the answer is simple: It’s all about keeping the nearby beach clean.
Natasha Viswanathan is a realtor by trade but she frequently walks the Isle of Palms beach in her free time. She regularly picks up trash while walking but thought there must be a better way to get others on board as well.
“It’s up to us to keep our home clean and I’m a native of the Lowcountry,” Viswanathan said. “I’ve spent a lot of time outside… and for me seeing a pristine beach like this… that almost has no trash is awesome. We should be really proud of that fact. But I’m sure plenty of us have seen beaches, parks and waterways that have not been so clean. So for me, I do have a sense of ownership, in taking care of the places I frequent and that’s why I reached out to Fill a Bag.”
Fill a Bag is responsible for the bucket tree you may have seen planted near the Isle of Palms Beach and also at Sullivans Island near Fort Moultrie. The startup began back in 2018 by a man named Manny Rionda of Key Biscayne, FL who, like Viswanathan saw a need and took action.
“Fill a Bag is an organization that is trying to help people understand how to turn an ordinary beach walk into a meaningful cleanup,” Viswanathan said. “So it kind of started that simply, as Manny saw a need to help people understand that we are the reason that our beaches are getting trashed. So he started putting stations along the beaches along Key Biscayne. And the reason why it’s called Fill a Bag is because he actually used bags to fill up with trash on his beachwalks every day and it evolved into what it is today.”
On Wednesday, the Fill a Bag movement continues its coastal spread. Occupying 59 stations in the United States with more stations being shipped to Mexico and Spain this month.
Viswanathan was the first to bring the initiative to the Palmetto State.
“I do take ownership, since I brought this to our area – but I think the larger picture is to help others take ownership as well,” Viswanathan said. “I think a lot of us from the Lowcountry do and keeping our space and our waters clean is important… and for me, I love seeing people walk down the beach with the buckets asking questions about you know, what they’re for – seeing kids with them. I guess the cool term is eco-activism. But if somebody does something to make our environment a little bit better, they’re statistically more connected with each other. They’re more connected with the environment and they take more ownership. It works for everyone.”
While Viswanathan is proud of the work she’s accomplished so far, she says there’s room for growth here in the greater Charleston area.
“I encourage folks to go to Fill a Bags website or their Instagram page and Manny will message you back if you’re interested in starting your own station,” Viswanathan said. “He’s lovely to work with and they will send you everything you need to get a station activated in your community. So I’m looking at you Folly Beach, you’re next! If there’s somebody that wants to activate a station on Folly… I would love to help get you started!”
On your next beach walk at IOP or Sullivans Island consider grabbing a pail and picking up trash. Each station is conveniently placed near a trash receptacle so when your bucket is full, or your walk is done, simply dump the trash and hang up the bucket.
“That’s exactly it, it’s just that easy,” Viswanathan said. “We purposely put the receptacles close to trash bins and recycling bins so that it makes it easier for people to actually just dump the bin and go on with their day. So it’s easy. It’s accessible to all types of people ages and backgrounds and that’s what it’s all about turning an ordinary Beach walk into a meaningful cleanup.”
While it may seem like a little thing, Viswanathan says sometimes the smallest changes can lead to the largest impact.
“I think for me growing up on Hilton Head and exploring the beaches. It was important to see adults care about the environment even just picking up a straw or wrapper or a can from the beach. I think imprinting those behaviors on kids is so cool and so positive and when I see parents walking with their children with a bucket,” Viswanathan said. “It makes me really hopeful for the future of our ecosystem here in the Lowcountry and globally so I would say that, you know, get kids involved lead through your behaviors, whether it’s switching from plastic bottles to reusables at home or making more eco-friendly choices in your house, you know, the small changes have the biggest impact. So that’s where I would start.”
To learn more on how to get involved, click here.