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Welcome to the Energy & Environment (E&E) Exchange, a blog dedicated to science and engineering topics that are (generally) related to energy and the environment. This blog is meant to encourage discussion about the challenges and possibilities surrounding sustainability through science and technology. The blog's owner, cheme_wordsmithy, is a former technical writer and engineering editor at IEEE GlobalSpec, the company that powers CR4.

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Mr. Trash Wheel Cleans Up the Baltimore Waterfront

Posted March 16, 2017 2:12 PM by HUSH
Pathfinder Tags: baltimore harbor litter waterwheel

I don’t know much about Baltimore. I know that the city is somewhat famous for delicious crabs. I’ve also watched The Wire. Outside of that, I am Master Sergeant Schultz from Hogan’s Heroes.

What I do know is that the city of Baltimore has found a novel means to approach its marine litter issues. By 2021, the city has an unofficial plan to make its harbor safe for swimming and fishing. As with many city harbors it is heavily polluted with sewage and litter. Activism campaigns have helped curb the former. And since 2014, the city has employed a novel invention to help curtail that litter.

Mr. Trash Wheel is the invention of John Kellet, a sailor and engineer who worked in the harbor. After literally conceiving of the idea on cocktail napkin, Kellet approached the city of Baltimore about a water wheel that would sift floating debris from the harbor.

The idea is remarkably simple. Baltimore Harbor is fed by from the Patapsco River via Jones Falls. The current is the primary motive force for a waterwheel that powers two sets of conveyor belts. The first is a series of rotating tongs that lift solids out of the water and places refuse on the second conveyor, which delivers trash to a dumpster. A containment boom funnels trash toward the machine and the dumpster is on a separate float so it can be easily exchanged. For days with slower water current, solar panels provide the extra power.

The stats speak for themselves. Since it started operating, Mr. Trash Wheel has picked out 1,094,340 lb. of trash. This includes 379,000 bottles, almost 9 million cigarette butts and more than 600,000 bags. Most of this trash comes from upriver and is washed into creeks and the river with storms. The immense litter removal capabilities of Mr. Trash Wheel has spawned a second, larger trash waterwheel in Baltimore—Professor Trash Wheel.

By anthropomorphizing the trash wheels and giving them Twitter accounts, the Waterfront Partnership has seen popularity, and therefore pollution consciousness, rise. There is a live stream of the garbage collection as well. There is also hope for another trash wheel in the future, and the cities of Lombok, Panama City, Rio de Janeiro, Honolulu, Milwaukee, Atlanta and Denver are all considering similar projects with Kellet’s construction company.

I’d expect to see many more trash wheels like these two popping up in the next few years. With many urban cities trying to reclaim waterfront and green spaces, and the relatively low cost and effort of the trash wheels, they seem like a great, passive solution for the environment.

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