Mr. Trash Wheel Cleans Baltimore’s Harbor

Quite frankly we’re rather surprised we haven’t heard of Mr. Trash Wheel before. It’s a community project by the Baltimore Waterfront’s Healthy Harbor program where they are trying to make the harbor both swimmable and fishable by 2020. One of the coolest projects that resonates with us is Mr. Trash Wheel — a waterwheel-powered-trash-collecting-conveyor-belt. Say that 10 times fast!

It was built in early 2014, and according to the latest data it has removed a whopping 160 tons of garbage from the waterway already. Floating buoy-nets direct the garbage floating on top of the water into a narrow passage where the conveyor belt powered by a waterwheel slowly picks up the trash, and then deposits it into a large dumpster on a barge.

In fact, it’s even saved a python from the water too!

The creators are hoping to build another water wheel for the Canton neighborhood, and are currently running a fundraiser. But as one redditor points out — it’d be fun to have a human-sized hamster wheel powering the trash collector so people could speed up the process — and get some exercise at the same time.

[via reddit]

40 thoughts on “Mr. Trash Wheel Cleans Baltimore’s Harbor

  1. To be clear, the “before” photo on the left is after a storm – that wasn’t an everyday kind of look. But the amount of garbage collected at the inflows after big rains has been impressive. I guess it’s simpler to build a technological solution than to convince the folks upstream to quit leaving their trash in the street.

    1. Heard on NPR a few months ago that littering in NYC used to be much less of a problem, until they banned pigs from city streets! It eliminated the pig poo, but then there goes the natural solution to clean up waste. Hence the advent of the street sweeper.

      1. The least-harsh emotion I can express about your comment is doubt. I’m pretty sure that pigs don’t eat the sort of trash that would survive being washed into a river (plastic bags and bottles, waxed paper cups, styrofoam takeout containers).

    2. What I came to say was, it is definitely easier to use technology to fix this, than to expect people to use common sense, or do whats right.

      I lived in NYC (I now live across the river in New Jersey, which isn’t much better.) and it really comes down to this, Americans feel entitled. Period. As much as it shames me, I’ve had friends (loose terminology) that would call on the SWAT team if some one dropped a bottle on their property, but fell no way whatsoever about pissing in the back of a convenience store.

      1. I think you’re painting Americans with an over-broad brush.

        I suspect it would be more accurate to say that when you get millions of people in one place it takes a particular sort of culture and a well-funded maintenance program to not have trash absolutely everywhere even if only a small percentage of the population are giant asshats.

    3. While the “before” photo may have been right after a storm, it is still a reasonable representation of what Baltimore is, as a whole.

      I am always surprised that all these Syrian refugees have made it so far away from their unlivable country. Why don’t we have waves of Baltimore refugees doing the same thing, trying to flee an equally horrible, unlivable hellhole of a place?

  2. I really like it, it is a basic water wheel (with a solar powered backup water pump), a high gear ratio. Nothing new, just the application, but it is a good application of tried and trusted solid technology.

    The 160 tons in the article above may be slightly out of date the linked saved a python says: “The solar-powered water wheel has removed nearly 300 tons of garbage from Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, including 5,700,000 cigarette butts, 400 sports balls and 81,000 plastic grocery bags.”

  3. I’ve never understood the mindset that says: finished your beverage, cigarette, diaper change, whatever? Just throw it on the ground, someone else will take care of it for you.

    Maybe it’s the way I was brought up, but doesn’t it seem kind of arrogant and irresponsible to just assume someone else will deal with your waste? I’d hate to see these people’s homes.

      1. Those would be the ideal candidates for the hamster wheel mentioned above :-)

        (Caught throwing trash on the street? Hamster for an equivalent of two pounds of trash — or perhaps for an amount proportional to the weight of trash thrown away).

    1. As far as I have gathered the general rationalization that is given when you call someone on it tends to be “It’s just one piece of trash”. So yeah they seem to be that special blend of ignorant and arrogant. Unable to comprehend that an army of asshats all chanting “it’s just one piece” are depositing significantly more than one piece of trash and operating safely in the assumption that someone else will deal with it for them anyhow so who cares.

      Personally I’ve walked around for half a day with a potato chip bag folded neatly in my pocket before I was able to find a trash can. Pockets, the amazing new temporary trash storage technology.

      1. Have you noticed that it is getting more difficult to find a trash receptacle in a lot of municipalities and when you do it can be overflowing. Local taxes increase but basic services get cut. Something is out of whack with our return on investment! This has been so gradual and subtle over the past 20-30 years it is almost un-noticed.

    1. Yes, they could arrange school field trips on a rotating basis (pun not intended) and have children “do their part” by each class turning the wheel for 30 minutes. If the water currents are strong enough their work could be stored by a water pump to a tank to supplement at a later time. (more tongue in cheek)

  4. In Paris they have traps for floating debris under some bridges. Because of the wind, floating debris tends to go on the side of the river, so they block the arches the closest to the banks with grids and the floating trash gets collected there. It has to be noted that generally water quality is not dependent on floating debris, so it’s not doing a lot for the swimmers, it’s helping the tourists not to have too much of a bad view.

  5. While certainly mouthbreathers are littering, I have also heard that a major problem is detritus flying from public and private garbage/recycling bins as well as the back of trash/recycling trucks. Some engineering can help address this source for sure, but it’s good to know that it’s not just people’s laziness but an inevitable side effect of wind/weather/moving trash around. Also you have kids hitting balls into dangerous/forbidden areas, raccoons etc. getting into garbage, inadvertent trash flying out of car windows, etc. Probably never going to socially engineer to solve the primary problem.

    1. Flying trash is less inevitable if you have a tight-fitting lid on your cans.

      That being said, my office is across the street from a shredding/recycling plant and there sure is a lot of crap blowing around from their open bay doors…

  6. Poor Ball Python… but seeing it curled up and taking advantage of the waste-heat of the inverter made me smile despite seeing how close he was to those bare terminals on the end.

    Hopefully they found him a good home after all he went through to get found.

    (PS- if this was your pet and you ‘released it back into the wild’- you suck. Do some research and find a reptile rescue if you cannot care for the animal you took responsibility for. /endRant)

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