Baltimore Inner Harbor features a wide variety of activities, from museums and parks to dining and nightlife. It’s a tourist attraction that doesn’t put much focus on the harbor itself, which has been a lightning rod for waste. The Waterfront Partnership wants to make the waters swimmable once again, and one of the ways they’re achieving that is with Mr. Trash Wheel.
Since 2012, both the Inner Harbor and Patapsco River have recorded failing grades in terms of water quality. Goals to make the harbor itself active by 2020 through the Healthy Harbor initiative look gloomy thanks to sewage that enters the harbour when it rains. Not only does this affect sea life, but it can create waterborne diseases.
One of the most popular initiatives in the Baltimore Inner Harbor recovery is Mr. Trash Wheel, developed by city local John Kellett. This water wheel is fueled by sunlight and water and collect trash that ends up in Jones Falls River. Water currents do most of the work while a solar panel picks up the slack when that source is unavailable. To make things unique, it’s been given a personality with large googly eyes attached.
All garbage is disposed of in a dumpster that’s frequently replaced to keep the water wheel constantly moving. Since May 9th, 2014, the project has collected over 1.5 million pounds of trash in the waters, which include bottles, polystyrene containers, and cigarette butts. In one storm, it was able to collect “16 dumpsters of trash” according to director Adam Lindquist.
Mr. Trash Wheel has gained a comedic reputation through its personality on social media. Its Twitter account, @MrTrashWheel, has over 15,700 followers with tweets that thank people pledging to pick up trash through a “secret society” called “The Order of the Wheel.” There’s also educational bits to go along with frequent jokes of his jiggly eyes.
“Mr. Trash Wheel helps to connect the dots and helps residents understand the impact of their actions,” said Rebecca Woods, executive director of Baltimore’s Environmental Control Board. “Mr. Trash Wheel provides a point of education for upstream efforts in helping residents understand what happens to trash that enters streets and then storm drains.”
Mr. Trash Wheel’s reach extends beyond his cozy harbor abode, she added:
“Residents in distant upstream communities that are sometimes thought to be disconnected from the harbor are beginning to want to be more involved with storm drain stewardship after becoming aware of Mr. Trash Wheel.”
Mr. Trash Wheel and the growing community around him have also caught the eye of the Baltimore City Council, which last month banned all styrofoam packaging from its food establishments.
Plus, he now has a trash-guzzling cousin: Professor Trash Wheel. Located in the Canton neighborhood of Baltimore, Professor Trash Wheel features a smaller design with a quicker wheel that can handle the faster pace found in this part of the waterway, which is polluted with smaller bits of trash.
Trash Wheel is a common surname in the world of garbage collectors, said Lindquist, but the two are not related. Professor Trash Wheel, which was given a female persona and a “degree in trash studies” will meet Mr. Trash Wheel for the first time at the 3rd annual Baltimore Flotilla in June, another Healthy Harbor Initiative event.
Healthy Harbor Initiative has also built floating wetland islands around the harbor, which not only filter the water but provide habitats for ducks, herons, turtles and other aquatic species. The group also hosts an oyster partnership, where community members help cultivate juvenile oysters off of their docks.
On the weekends, Woods sometimes checks in on Mr. Trash Wheel with her son.
“Seeing trash and litter is devastating to my 7 year old, and he regularly tells people to pick up their trash when he sees someone litter,” Woods said. “Mr. Trash Wheel is that friendly face that provides my son comfort that trash will be blocked from entering the harbor. To my son, Mr. Trash Wheel is a hero.” The project has been a major success, with $550,000 already raised.