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Baltimore, Maryland

Mr. Trash Wheel

This bug-eyed water wheel uses the power of the Sun to clean up Baltimore Harbor. 

Anyone who lives near a river can tell you: When trash doesn’t make it to a garbage can, it almost always ends up in the water. Baltimore’s Inner Harbor, which links Jones Falls to the Chesapeake Bay, is not exempt from this. As the sole outflow for the Jones Falls Watershed area—which covers 58 square miles of the city—the harbor used to be filled with the city’s refuse, turning what was supposed to be a lovely waterfront district into a sort of wet-garbage-front district.

Enter Mr. Trash Wheel. Officially named the “Inner Harbor Water Wheel,” and invented by a former dock manager who was tired of seeing junk float by him every day, this charming, minibus-sized gizmo has taken on cleanup duty for the whole harbor. 

It works like this: Long, floating containment booms positioned at the mouth of Jones Falls herd floating trash into Mr. Trash Wheel’s general area. Then, rotating underwater forks grab the trash and push it onto an angled conveyer belt, which pulls it into a dumpster. The moving parts are all powered by a waterwheel, with backup from a flat of solar panels. (The gathered trash is later incinerated, to generate electricity.)

According to the Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore’s official website, since his first day in May of 2014, Mr. Trash Wheel has removed over one million pounds of trash from the harbor. His monthly haul includes tens of thousands of plastic bags, chip packets, and cigarette butts, as well as the occasional errant sports ball.

The site also features a livestream, in case you want to see such an accomplished garbage-gobbler in action. But if you’re in the area, it’s worth going to pay your respects—there’s nothing like watching a cute machine happily eat trash.