In May 2014, an unusual vessel took to the waves at Baltimore Harbor [sic].
Neither a trawler nor a recreational craft, the solar powered water wheel attached to a barge has a unique and specific function.
Mr Trash Wheel, as he is affectionately known to locals, is part of the Waterfront Partnership’s Healthy Harbor [sic] initiative to make the water clean enough for both swimming and fishing by 2020.1 The current levels of pollution in the water which make it unsafe for such activities are believed to have partly arisen from street littering. Rainfall carries litter into the city’s storm drains, where it carries on through unfiltered streams toward a small river and subsequently into the harbour.
Mr Trash Wheel remediates this by directing floating debris and refuse into the front opening, from where the haul is fed onto a conveyor belt. The belt then deposits the waste into a shipping container which is later emptied.
Over a year has passed since Mr Trash Wheel has taken to the waves, which has allowed for a fair amount of number-crunching in order to assess what kind of impact he’s had. As the conveyor only picks up surface debris, it is unable to counteract or reduce levels of faecal bacteria, heavy metals and other hazards, much of which are a result of heavy industry, manufacturing and shipping in the area. 2 The single biggest daily catch was approximately 17,000kg of waste, with the running total being near 336 tonnes as of October 2015.3 Among the debris picked up were some 4,000,000 cigarette butts.4 So far, it has cost around $130,000.00 per calendar year to keep the wheel turning.5 As he is sustained by renewable energy, there is obviously no carbon footprint to worry about beyond construction and ad hoc maintenance.
Mr Trash Wheel’s popularity has steadily increased amongst locals, who would no doubt be even happier should the Waterfront Partnership’s dreams be realised and property owners would presumably see a notable rise in value. Perhaps in an effort to anthropomorphise Mr Trash Wheel even further, a recent petition has been successful with its aim of installing a pair of googly eyes.
As Mr Trash Wheel shows no sign of slowing down, funds are being raised to create a sibling to join in the task of cleaning up the harbour. 5 If other cities, as well as national governments, were to follow in Baltimore’s lead, we could eventually see members of the Trash Wheel family all across the world in years to come.