Plastic pollution is worse than ever, with scientists recently
horrific levels of micro plastics found in Arctic sea ice,
but innovative new ways of cleaning it up may give us a sliver
of hope in this fight. A familiar googly-eyed sight in
Baltimore for years now, floating plastic-cleaning devices
known as ‘Mr. Trash Wheel’ and ‘Professor Trash Wheel’ are set
to spread to new cities. Meanwhile, an environmental startup
Rivers is gamifying pollution cleanup with a remote
trashbot anyone can control from the internet.
Created by John Kellet, Mr. Trash Wheel and Professor Trash
Wheel are a pair of solar- and hydro-powered water wheels based
in Baltimore’s Inner Harbor,
collectively pulling millions of pounds of trash out of the
water since they were first installed in 2014. Both designs
feature ribbed white canopies that make them look like gigantic
shellfish, an effect magnified by the addition of painted eyes.
They’re operated as part of the Waterfront Partnership’s
Healthy Harbor Initiative, and they’re so successful, people
around the world are taking notice.
Each is capable of collecting up to 38,000 pounds of debris in
a single day, sucking waste from the notoriously polluted
harbor up a conveyer belt that leads to a dumpster barge. The
collected material is then hauled away and separated by
volunteers, with some of it incinerated to help produce
electricity for the city of Baltimore. When the current isn’t
strong enough to power them, the water wheels run on backup
solar panel arrays.
If you’re wondering whether the trash wheels have ever picked
up unintended objects, the answer is yes – once it
caught a python, and another time, it drew a kayaker into its
On a much smaller scale, but still pretty cool, Urban Rivers’
Trash Robot encourages mass participation in trash cleanup,
even from your couch. Spend just a couple minutes piloting the
bot from your computer, anywhere in the world, and you’ll be
adding to a collective effort while having some fun. Players
navigate the bot toward floating trash and get points for
snagging as much litter as possible within a set time period.
According to its creators, the biggest challenge in maintaining
this project is preventing vandalism and theft of the bots,
which they attempt to control with GPS trackers. The
Chicago-based nonprofit demonstrated the project in June 2017
and continues to raise funds for future expansions.