Today’s Solutions: April 14, 2024

Trash interceptors have become an increasingly popular tool in our efforts to help prevent plastic waste from escaping into the ocean. More than a year ago, we shared a story about some of the most popular projects around the world using interceptors to capture plastics in rivers.

Among them was Mr. Trash Wheel, a trash interceptor with googly eyes that has been scooping rubbish out of the Jones Fall River in Baltimore since 2014. Almost seven years later, the project has grown to become a sensation and the pride of Baltimore, helping to improve the prized waterfront of Maryland’s largest city, while also making an impact far beyond the city limits by stopping trash before it reaches the Atlantic Ocean.

Keeping the trash at bay

John Kellet, the creator of the original Mr. Trash Wheel, said he got the idea for the installation after he witnessed the overwhelming amount of trash that ended up in the harbor after it rained. After the city showed enthusiasm for Kellet’s idea, he secured funding from a nonprofit to eventually install Mr. Trash Wheel in Baltimore’s Harbor. Since then, the installation has intercepted over 3 million pounds of trash, making the harbor not only cleaner and more beautiful but also a nicer home for local wildlife as well as waterfront businesses.

A simple technology

The interceptor employs a rather straightforward technology: Powered by waterwheels and the river’s current — with solar panels for backup on slower days — the vessel collects debris through floating barriers using an array of trash-scooping rakes. The collected debris then travels on a large conveyor belt out of the water and into a large dumpster. A small crew then easily removes and empties the floating bins when they get full.

The installation also has an internet connection, allowing Kellet to see what’s happening on the vessel via webcam and take action if needed. He can also switch on pumps remotely from his phone to push water onto the wheel so it never stops gobbling trash.

Local attraction

Alongside having its own name and a cute face with large googly eyes, Mr. Trash Wheel has an online media presence to increase his profile and make him a city attraction. This has been working well so far, with people coming to visit the installation, taking selfies, and helping spread the word about supporting a clean environment.

Currently, four different wheels sit in Baltimore’s rivers, all relatives of Mr. Trash Wheel, and soon more will be helping clean other cities across the world.

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