I love projects that use ancient technology to solve modern problems. Baltimore’s “Mr. Trash Wheel is one such project. According to a short article by Eve Conant (NG April 2016):
The rising star of Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, known to locals as Mr. Trash Wheel, is a garbage gobbler with its own social media following. “It’s sort of a cross between a spaceship and a covered wagon,” says its creator, John Kellett, the former museum director who sketched the contraption’s design on a napkin.
Built with $720,000 in public and private funds, the voracious devise filled 12 Dumpsters with trash in the 48-hours after a particularly heavy storm last year. Since its debut in 2014, it has pulled in some 354 tons of trash. The Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore owns the wheel and makes a detailed tally of its intake–which as of last December included 176,589 chip bages and nearly seven million cigarette butsts.
Dozens of countries have asked for help in creating their own wheels, say Kellett. Among them: India, for its garbage laden Ganges River, and Brazil, which will host Olympic events this year in Rio de Janeiro’s trashy Guanabara Bay.
Major components of Mr. Trash Wheel include:
- Floating booms funnel trash toward rotating forks, which lift the refuse onto a conveyor belt.
- Powered by the current of the Jones Falls River, a wheel cranks the conveyor belt. Backup solar panels can keep the wheel moving when the current is slow.
- River trash tumbles into a Dumpster. When the container is full, a boat tows it to a transit station.
One aspect of the trash wheel that I find particularly interesting is its real-time monitoring and control. The wheel’s speed can be controlled via the Internet. Remote monitoring also indicates when Dumpsters need to be swapped out.
On a rainy day in Baltimore (May 2016), my sister-in-law, brother, and I visited Mr. Trash Wheel site. Unfortunately there was no trash that day and the wheel wasn’t operational. And my attempts to locate a guide to further explain the fine points of the wheel were unsuccessful.