Baltimost: Mr. Trash Wheel

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Photo by Chesapeake Bay Program, via Flickr

Mr. Trash Wheel

Goofy, animatronic and flaunting a savvy social media presence, Mr. Trash Wheel has artfully straddled the line between humorous advocacy and practical cleanup for Baltimore's harbor for five years now.

The solar-powered, dumpster-bellied robot is the brainchild of John Kellett, founder of Pasadena-based Clearwater Mills. Since deploying at the mouth of the Jones Falls in the Inner Harbor in May 2014, Mr. Trash Wheel has collected more than 1,100 tons of trash from the water, including some 10.6 million cigarette butts, over 612,000 grocery bags, almost 9,000 glass bottles and two beer kegs, the most recent data say.

"Unfortunately it does seem like anything and everything eventually finds its way into Mr. Trash Wheel," says Adam Lindquist of the Healthy Harbor Initiative, which owns and operates the machine.

The trash wheel has earned his own cult following--some are quite devoted--and multiple signature beers along the way, and has inspired a whole family of the devices from Clearwater Mills. There are now two others in Baltimore, Professor Trash Wheel and Captain Trash Wheel (and another planned for the mouth of the Gwynns Falls), plus a sibling coming soon out west in Newport Beach, California.

As impressive as the floating trash-collecting machines are, it would be foolish to think these alone could fully and constantly purge the litter amassing in the harbor. That blame lies with us humans.

That's the inherent appeal to Mr. Trash Wheel and his growing family, Lindquist says: Their presence reminds devoted fans that all of their litter will inevitably end up in local waterways if they don't properly dispose of it. "That is to me, almost more valuable than taking trash out--promoting behavior change."

Still, Mr. Trash Wheel has proven to be an impressive, innovative fix.

"I think this is the most viable technological solution to ocean plastics," Lindquist says. "It's certainly not the ultimate solution, right? We need to be making and consuming less plastic. But Mr. Trash Wheel is really at a sweet spot for where you can pick up trash in the most economical way."

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Ethan McLeod
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