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Mr. Trash Wheel Cleaning Up Rivers

Rivers dump approximately eight million metric tons of plastic into the world’s oceans each year. It’s killing entire ecosystems, including many endangered species.

Since one percent of the rivers around the world dump eighty percent of the plastic into our oceans, it makes sense to target the problem before the plastics and other garbage reach the ocean. While researchers and activists insist that preventing plastic pollution is the top priority, cleanup measures are part of the solution.

After watching garbage flow down a local river for years and after volunteering to cleanup the river, a Baltimore man jumped into action. John Kellett drew up some plans for a machine powered by a water wheel. He designed it to intercept trash at the mouth of Jones Falls, which is the main source of harbor pollution. He installed a prototype in 2008 and it was a success. By 2014, the technology was rebranded as Mr. Trash Wheel—a floating miracle that resembles a miniature riverboat.

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Mr. Trash Wheel is a simple trash interceptor that is placed at the end of a river, stream or other outfall. It employs both solar and hydropower to pull hundreds of tons of trash out of the water each year. It’s an idea that demands replication in key rivers around the world.

Using containment booms, trash flowing down the river is funneled into Mr. Trash Wheel’s collection system. Two booms reach outward and under the surface of the water to capture trash. The booms funnel the garbage onto a conveyor belt that feeds a large dumpster. Once the dumpster fills, it is towed away and replaced. Ideally, the plastic gets recycled, but current sorting technologies are unable to separate the plastics from other trash. For now, the city incinerates the trash to create electricity.

“I don’t think of the Trash Wheel as a solution,” said John Kellett, inventor of Mr. Trash Wheel. “We are treating a symptom of the disease. It’s not a cure.”

Mr. Trash Wheel has spawned replicas around Baltimore—Professor Trash Wheel, Captain Trash Wheel, and Gwynnda the Good Wheel of the West. Similar models also are planned for Newport Beach, California and Managua, Nicaragua. 

Professor Trash Wheel has been cleaning up Harris Creek since December 2016. Captain Trash Wheel has been cleaning up Masonville Cove since June 2018 and Gwynnda the Good Wheel of the West, the largest system so far, has been working hard at Gwynns Falls since June 2021.

Trasharella is coming soon to Newport Beach, California and Dona Rueda is scheduled to be the first venture into international waters—in Panama.

So far, the Mr. Trash family has collected 2,004 tons of trash. The most Mr. Trash Wheel has ever collected in a single day is 38,000 lbs. On a sunny day, the solar panels can produce 2,500 watts of electricity—enough to power a typical Maryland home.

Mr. Trash was invented and constructed by Clearwater Mills, LLC. It is owned and maintained by Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore and funded by Maryland Port Administration and Constellation. Additional funding provided by Brown Advisory, The Abell Foundation, and Marriott Hotels.

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Greener Cities is a division of Crossbow Communications. Greener Cities is a resource for sustainable and resilient cities and communities around the world.

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Avatar Gary Chandler

Author: Gary Chandler

Gary Chandler is a sustainability strategist, author and advocate. Follow him on Twitter @Gary_Chandler