Mr. Trash Wheel cleans up Baltimore’s harbor after a rainstorm.

Casey Merbler/Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore

STANDARDS

NGSS: Core Idea: ESS3.C

CCSS: Reading Informational Text: 2 

TEKS: Science: 3.2D, 4.2D, 5.2D, 5.9C; ELA: 3.6G, 4.6G, 5.6G, 6.5G

Trash Collector

Meet the litter-gobbling machine in Baltimore’s harbor

Something was bothering John Kellett. Every day for 20 years, he had walked across a bridge on his way to work as an engineer in Baltimore, Maryland. And every day, he saw trash littering the river below. That trash was harming local wildlife. Kellett wanted to help, but he didn’t know what to do. 

Then inspiration struck! Kellett came up with an idea for a solution: a trash-collecting machine powered by the river’s current. As the water wheel spun, it would scoop up the trash flowing toward the ocean. 

Today, Kellett’s invention is hard at work in Baltimore’s harbor. Since it was installed in 2014, the device, known as Mr. Trash Wheel, has collected more than 680,000 kilograms 

Something was bothering John Kellett. He had walked across a bridge every day for 20 years. It was on his way to work. Kellett is an engineer in Baltimore, Maryland. He saw trash littering the river below every day. That trash was harming local wildlife. Kellett wanted to help. But he didn’t know what to do.

Then he had an idea! Kellett came up with a solution. It was a trash-collecting machine. It would be powered by the river’s current. Water would spin a giant wheel. And it would scoop up the trash flowing toward the ocean.

Today, Kellett’s invention sits in Baltimore’s harbor. The device is known as Mr. Trash Wheel. It’s been hard at work since 2014. It’s collected more than 680,000 kilograms (1.5 million pounds) of trash. Here’s how Kellett turned his idea into a reality.

Test Wheel

Kellett started by making a prototype, or test version, of his invention. He had to get permission from local officials to install the test wheel alongside a dock.

The prototype consisted of a water wheel attached to a conveyor belt. As water turned the wheel, it also moved the belt. The conveyor belt carried the trash out of the water and into a large trash bin. When the current was weak, solar panels used the sun’s energy to power the belt (see How the Wheel Works).

Soon after the wheel was in place, people began to notice the river was looking cleaner. The wheel was doing its job!

There was just one problem. The harbor had much more trash than anyone expected. The wheel was not big enough to handle it all. “The concept worked well,” says Kellett, “but we realized we needed something bigger, stronger, and faster.”

Kellett started by making a prototype of his invention. A prototype is a test version. He had to get permission from local officials. Then he built the test wheel alongside a dock. 

The prototype was made up of a water wheel. It was attached to a conveyor belt. Water turned the wheel. That moved the belt. The belt carried the trash out of the water. It dropped it into a large trash bin. Sometimes, the current was weak. So solar panels took over. They used the sun’s energy to power the belt (see How the Wheel Works).

The wheel hadn’t been in place for long. But people began to notice the river was looking cleaner. The wheel was doing its job!

There was just one problem. The harbor had much more trash than anyone thought. The wheel was not big enough to handle it all. “The concept worked well,” says Kellett. “But we realized we needed something bigger, stronger, and faster.”  

Eye-Opener

Kellett teamed up with the Baltimore Waterfront Partnership (BWP), a group that works to improve the harbor. BWP helped Kellett raise the money to build a second version of the wheel. This larger version had a 4-meter (14-foot) diameter.

Baltimore locals quickly embraced the trash wheel. But staff at the BWP wanted to spread the word even further. So in 2015, they attached googly eyes to the device and gave it a silly name: Mr. Trash Wheel. The machine became a hit on social media! Its popularity has brought attention to the need to clean up the world’s waterways.

Since then, two more wheels—Professor Trash Wheel and Captain Trash Wheel—have joined the cleanup effort. Kellett is currently working to set up similar garbage-collecting devices in other communities.

Kellett teamed up with the Baltimore Waterfront Partnership (BWP). This group works to improve the harbor. BWP helped Kellett raise money. He used it to build a second version of the wheel. It was larger. It had a 4 meter (14 foot) diameter.

Baltimore locals quickly embraced the trash wheel. But staff at the BWP wanted to spread the word even further. So they attached googly eyes to the device in 2015. They also gave it a silly name. They called it Mr. Trash Wheel. The machine became a hit on social media! Its popularity has brought attention to the need to clean up the world’s waterways.

Two more wheels have joined the cleanup effort since then. They’re named Professor Trash Wheel and Captain Trash Wheel. Kellett is currently working with other communities. They want to set up similar garbage-collecting devices. 

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