In an effort to keep the Jones Falls River clean of trash, the City of Baltimore has installed a water-solar hybrid powered trash wheel that collects any garbage floating downstream in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor. To keep the community engaged, the trash wheel was given an elaborate – and rather adorable – personality, Mr. Trash Wheel, as well as a pair of googly eyes for effect.

The waterborne trash-eating machine came as a solution to save the water quality in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor since, in 2012, studies showed that it was dwindling. Mr. Trash Wheel was thus brought to life as part of the 2020 Healthy Harbor Initiative.

The mechanism behind Mr. Trash Wheel is plain and simple: the wheel is powered by the water’s natural current, and is it moves, it collects litter and trash flowing down the river. When the current isn’t strong enough to power the water wheel, the wheel can be powered by solar energy to keep the wheel turning. The trash is deposited into a trash barge that is then emptied regularly by boat.

Since May 4th, 2014, 1.5 million pounds (688,834 kilograms) of trash have been collected from the Jones Falls River. The trash collected from the river included 9.3 million cigarette butts, 737,025 polystyrene containers, and 7,953 glass bottles, among others.

Mr. Trash Wheel was invented and constructed by Clearwater Mills LLC and is owned by the Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore, in part developed by city local John Kellett. And while Mr. Trash Wheel may seem like an installation intended for children, the anthropomorphic trash-collecting device is actually loved by the entire community.

The most trash that was ever collected in one day, according to the trash wheel’s website, is 38,000 pounds (17,237 kilograms). The director of the wheel, Adam Lindquist, claims that, during one storm, so much trash was collected it could fill 16 dumpsters to the brim.

Mr. Trash Wheel’s solar panels can also generate up to 2,800 watts of electricity, which is just enough to power a house in Maryland. The trash that the wheel collects is then incinerated to generate more energy.

To keep the community engaged, a Twitter account for Mr. Trash Wheel was set up, thanking trash collectors and responding to fans. A “society” of trash collectors, titled “The Order of the Wheel,” was publicized on Facebook. The “Order” calls for individuals to “sign up” to become members and, after committing, receive a number of privileges and access to Mr. Trash Wheel merchandise.

Mr. Trash Wheel

‘Prof. Trash Wheel” (Courtesy of Baltimore Sun)

Since Mr. Trash Wheel Professor was so successful, “Prof. Trash Wheel,” another trash wheel, was installed in Baltimore’s Canton neighborhood and collects the trash flowing in Harris Creek. The name ‘professor’ comes from the fact that the trash wheel’s personality reportedly completed a degree in ‘trash studies.’

As successful as the trash wheels have been in Baltimore, water pollution continues to be an issue elsewhere. The Ocean Cleanup project has made headlines for inventing cutting-edge technology that can rid large swathes of ocean water of its polluting trash. The technology behind The Ocean Clean Up was developed by Dutch inventor, Boyan Slat, when he was an 18-year-old aerospace engineering student.