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Mr. Trash Wheel Is The Eco-Friendly Plastic-Picking Device Cleaning Up Harbors

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There's nothing cute about plucking plastic garbage out of Baltimore harbor waters. Not until you've met Mr. Trash Wheel, anyway. Thanks to this floating trash wheel with giant googly eyes, Baltimore's Inner Harbor is cleaner than it's been in years. And it's getting clean in efficient and adorable style.

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He Only Has Eyes For Trash

Mr. Trash Wheel is adorable, and incredibly effective. Since it hit the waters of Baltimore's Inner Harbor (where it can clear debris before it enters the Chesapeake Bay) in May 2014, Mr. Trash Wheel has scooped up over a million pounds of trash. This googly gadget is not messing around! The wheel was born after creator John Kellett took a crack at creating a pilot device in 2008 that cleaned waste from the harbor. After revising the original model, and getting support from the Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore, Mr. Trash Wheel as we know it (him?) was born.

According to National Geographic, "the contraption works by drawing power from solar panels and the current of Jones Falls River to turn a waterwheel, which in turn powers a conveyer belt. Containment booms direct the trash towards the conveyer belt, which then drops the debris into a waiting Dumpster. That bin sits on its own platform and can be floated out when it's time to change it."

Related: The Environmental Crisis of Plastic Polluting The Oceans

But okay, we need to talk about those eyes. They weren't part of the original design, but they've helped create a small Mr. Trash Wheel fandom for those who can't resist a good anthropomorphized water wheel (check out the Twitter account). In turn, the new—literal—face of Mr. Trash Wheel has brought interest to the issue of water pollution.

Related: ByFusion Turns Pollution Into Eco-Friendly Construction

That's Professor Trash Wheel To You

It was only a matter of time before Mr. Trash Wheel got lonely. The floating device gained a buddy in December 2016, who was given the appropriately adorable name of Professor Trash Wheel. The success of both Mr. and Professor Trash Wheel is a great thing for Baltimore, but may soon float over to harbors in more cities.

Related: Paris Is Going "Car-Free" Once A Month To Tackle Air Pollution

Of course, this is about more than just a trash picker with a pretty face. Mr. Trash Wheel and his Professor friend are facilitating real legislative change in Baltimore. As National Geographic reports, each haul pulled out of the water from the devices "includes almost nine million cigarette butts and over 300,000 plastic bags. The data is used to support environmental legislation. For example, the Waterfront Partnership recently supported a bill that would ban Styrofoam containers. Mr. Trash Wheel picks up an average of 14,000 Styrofoam containers a month, second only to cigarettes."

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John Kellett
Founder and president of Clearwater Mills, LLC
Q:
What inspired you to take on the issue of cleaning up plastic waste from Baltimore's harbors?
A:

I have been working on Baltimore Harbor for more than 25 years and it is a truly beautiful place. Unfortunately, the trash and other pollution has a tremendous negative impact on the experience of visitors, residents, recreational users and aquatic life. Through my work on the harbor as an environmental educator and as director of the Baltimore Maritime Museum, I was confronted with this problem on a daily basis and felt the need to try to do something about it.

Q:
What were some key features you wanted to include in the design of Mr. Trash Wheel?
A:

We felt it was important for the machine to be powered by renewable energy and be sustainable. It seems critical that while cleaning up one kind of pollution you are not producing another. It is also important that in this highly visible location that the machine looks attractive and show that it is possible to do an ugly job while looking good. My friends at Ziger/Snead Architects did a great job designing a cover structure that is distinctive, artistic and lets people see how it works. It is also important to our design to keep it simple and strong. A flooded river is a tough environment for machinery and we felt that strength and simplicity would be a good approach to keeping maintenance and operating costs down.

Q:
What are some easy steps people can take to keep our lakes, rivers, and oceans clean?
A:

There are many simple ways everyone can be a part of the solution. First, make sure your trash ends up in a place where it can't find its way into our waterways. Recycle, or better yet, reuse. Volunteer for cleanups in your neighborhood in a park or on a beach. We would truly be happy if there was nothing for the trash wheels to pick up.

Q:
You didn't originally design Mr. Trash Wheel with its distinctive googly eyes—how do you feel about them?
A:

The googly eyes and the Mr. Trash Wheel character are a lot of fun and a tremendous way to draw attention to the problem of pollution in our waterways and hopefully inspire people to become part of the solution. We hope that everyone still understands that the trash wheel is a serious piece of equipment addressing a very serious problem.

Q:
Where would you like to see Mr. Trash Wheel go in the future?
A:

Eventually we hope there is not a need for trash wheels. Until that time, we think there are many, many places around the world where they could have a very positive impact like they are having in Baltimore.

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