New trash wheel coming to the mouth of the Gwynns Falls

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Rendering by Ziger-Snead Architects.

Baltimore’s trash wheel family is growing.

A fourth wheel is planned for the city’s waters, located where the Gwynns Falls empties into the Middle Branch of the Patapsco River just south of the Horseshoe Casino.

The to-be-named anthropomorphic trash collector will be larger than Mr. Trash Wheel, Professor Trash Wheel and Captain Trash Wheel, with a grappling arm to move large debris and a canopy covered with 72 solar panels.

“An estimated 400 tons of litter and debris flow into the Middle Branch each year,” Adam Lindquist, director of the Healthy Harbor Initiative that runs the wheels, said in a statement. “This new trash wheel will mean cleaner shorelines and less plastic in the Harbor and the Chesapeake Bay.”

Lindquist told Baltimore Fishbowl the goal is to have the new trash wheel up and running by spring 2020. In the meantime, names can be submitted at

Mr. Trash Wheel was first installed at the mouth of the Jones Falls in 2014, and was followed by Professor Trash Wheel in December 2016 at the mouth of Harris Creek and Captain Trash Wheel in June 2018 at Masonville Cove. To date, the three have collected more than 1,200 tons of trash, preventing the bottles, cigarette butts, plastic bags and other debris from entering the Patapsco River and, eventually, the Chesapeake Bay.

Since the Gwynn Falls runs from Reisterstown all the way down to the harbor, both Baltimore County and Baltimore City are contributing operating funds for the project.

“The trash wheels help give Baltimore communities the clean harbor they deserve,” Baltimore Mayor Bernard C. “Jack” Young said in a statement. “I support projects and legislation that keep trash off our streets and out of our steams, and I applaud residents who do their part to keep their neighborhoods clean so that someday we won’t need trash wheels.”

Baltimore County Executive Johnny Olszewski Jr. said in a statement that ” litter and water quality are regional issues that require effective partnership solutions.”

“We are very pleased to lend our support to another trash wheel, which will remove trash while also calling attention to the fact that litter doesn’t stop where it drops, so we need to prevent littering in the first place,” he said.

Weller Development and Continental Realty Corporation, which both own property along the Middle Branch; the South Baltimore Gateway Partnership, the nonprofit that allots local impact revenue from the casino; and the Maryland Port Administration are also providing funds.

Under an agreement with Wheelabrator Baltimore, trash collected by the new wheel will be burned at the company’s nearby incinerator, which creates steam that heats and cools buildings downtown, at no cost.

Lindquist told Baltimore Fishbowl the company is also providing equipment to lift full dumpsters off the wheel when the trash is ready to be burned, a particularly tough task because the water is so shallow.

With the other three, the trash wheel is taken to a boat ramp, where the dumpster is offloaded and the trash is disposed of by the city. In this case, the closest boat ramp is near MedStar Harbor Hospital in Cherry Hill, he said.

South Baltimore residents have complained that the nitrous oxide emitted from the plant has contributed to high rates of asthma and other health effects. Neighbors inhale air that, according to the EPA, ranks in the top 20 nationally for toxic emissions.

New Hampshire-based Wheelabrator Technologies has said the waste-to-energy facility and others like it are more environmentally friendly than landfills, and the company has complied with federal and state regulations on pollution.

But the City Council unanimously passed a bill earlier this drastically reducing the allowable rates of emissions for the incinerator, which has been in operation since 1985, and require more monitoring by 2020. Then-Mayor Catherine Pugh signed the legislation in March.

In response, Wheelabrator–joined by Curtis Bay Energy, which disposes of medical waste–sued the city, arguing the new limits would force them to close and the city overstepped its authority in authorizing them.

If the incinerator were to close, Healthy Harbor Initiative could still off-load full dumpsters at the site, which is owned by the city, Lindquist said.

This story has been updated.

Brandon Weigel

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  1. Wheelabrator Baltimore is the city’s largest air polluter by far. Incinerators are NOT better than landfills. They’re far more polluting. They turn every 100 tons of trash into 70 tons of air pollution and 30 tons of toxic ash that still goes to landfills, making them more dangerous than using the landfill directly. Baltimore has been cited by the state for this toxic ash blowing off-site. Also, trash incineration is NOT “waste to energy.” Waste isn’t turned into energy, but into toxic ash and toxic air pollution. Incinerators do not violate the laws of physics and turn matter into energy.

    Anyway, thanks to Energy Justice Network and 35 groups who supported our work, Baltimore City Council passed the Baltimore Clean Air Act unanimously in February, which is expected to cause the Wheelabrator trash incinerator and the Curtis Bay Energy medical waste incinerator (largest in the nation, taking medical waste from 20 states) to close in September 2020. Please don’t report on this as if burning the trash wheel catch (primarily recyclable packaging and compostable tree branches and leaves) is a good thing. It’s not.

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