Meet Mr. Trash Wheel, the great garbage gobbler of Baltimore
19:39

Meet Mr. Trash Wheel, the great garbage gobbler of Baltimore

Science
[MUSIC] The pollution in city harbors is an ever present threat in urban areas. It's unsightly to local residents, it harms native wildlife, it could potentially affect property values and make a region a less desirable place to live and work. Okay. So how do local governments fight pollution in city harbors, improving the look and livability and creating a clean, safe, thriving, urban waterfront. Now what? Joining me today is John Kelly, the creator of Mr. Trash wheel and the founder of Clearwater mills in Baltimore, Maryland. John, thanks for taking the time to talk to me today. Thanks for having me [MUSIC] So, can you tell me the origin story of Mr. Trash Wheel? How did you come up with the idea, and how did you build it? Sure. So I worked on the Baltimore Harbor for about 20 years and on a daily basis I was confronted with trash in Harbor Baltimore. Beautiful harbor but it has been impacted negatively by the trash and then it's hard to see the beauty past the trash a lot of the time. And it didn't take a lot of investigation to realize the trash is not coming in from people walking around the harbor and throwing their trash into the harbor. It comes from the land sources. And it gets washed by the storm water down the storm drains and into the creeks, then into the main river that feeds the Inner Harbor. So all the trash and a large portion of the city and portion of the county, is on the ground on the streets and the alleys and the parking lots ends up getting washed by the water into the harbor, and making a real mess out of the harbor And from there he makes a mess out of the Chesapeake Bay and eventually all that trash makes it into the Atlantic Ocean and it makes problems all what environmental problems aesthetic problems economic problems dirty from Where it originates to where it ends up, I would cross the footbridge on the promenade on across the main river that feeds the Inner Harbor and see the trashes particularly after it rains flowing into the harbor. And I said, you know, there should be a way to, Stop this trash before it spreads out the mouth of the river seemed like the logical place to do it. And I did some research to see if there was anything out there that could tackle that job. And I came up with nothing. So I said, Well, maybe we should, maybe I should give it a try. So I actually called the city and said, You know We should do something about the trash dumping out of the river into the harbor. Well, we're open to ideas. And so every day on my way to work, I'd think about what we could do. And I grew up on a farm and my first idea was, why don't we have like a hay bale or loading hay baler that would bale it. Get rid of and I said, Well, we don't really have to bail it. That's something unnecessary but that the idea of collecting like a hay bale or wood and scooping it up and putting it somewhere seemed like a reasonable approach. And then I thought, well the water. When it rains, the rivers flowing hard We could use that flow of the river as a power source to power the machine. Instead of, you know, creating more pollution to deal with pollution by burning fossil fuels or whatever. Why don't we use renewable energy river had been used to power Baltimore's industries are a large part of the previous century that Mills along the Jones falls river Good things like Nick textiles longer, like almost like a windmill sort of technology. Yeah, waterwheel technology that was a you know water wheels were for centuries of major power source for for industry is you know they would use that water wheel to run The equipment because they didn't have internal combustion engines to do it or electrical motors to do it so water wheels were a primary source of power. Here we have plentiful water power. Fresh water is good harbor and easy access to the ocean fate of the world. Also inside a Boston, Philadelphia, Baltimore, Washington, Richmond Petersburg. New Orleans, San Francisco, Seattle, Houston, Portland and many others Are using an age old technology to tackle a more modern problem of plastics coming into the harbor. And so that from there, the idea of the waterwheel power trashing are [UNKNOWN]. Seem kind of obvious you can use a waterwheel to power a conveyor and the conveyor can lift it up out of the water and put it in a dumpster. And we thought, well, why don't we have the machine stay still but the dumpster will be on a separate floating barge. When the dumpsters full, we'll take that barge away with the dumpster on it and bring it back with an empty one too Picking up. We did a prototype of it. And prototype was successful but we learned a lot of lessons from it. First, we learned that the job could be done and that the concept was valid, but that the problem was big and that the environment is very challenging. Picking up Hundreds of tonnes of trash from a flooded river is a extremely challenging job for any piece of equipment. We realised we needed to make something that was super strong and fast and durable to stand up that Conditions of the environment and the amount of trash and debris that we're getting down that river. Can you just walk us through how Mr trash wheel works for those that might not have ever seen it or even have any idea how it works>> Mr.Trash wheel and now it's it's positive trash wheels are I guess they're not truly related but the family of trash wheels all work on the same principle. They're stationary pieces of equipment. They don't move around. They sit there at the mouth of a tributary, the vast majority of marine trash comes from land sources being carried by storm water into rivers. Sits at the mouth of the tributary we use containment bones to funnel the trash to a conveyor. In front of the conveyor. There's a system of rakes also powered by the water wheel to break up the trash and push it up onto the conveyor and then conveyors like an inclined plane so the upstream end is underwater. Then downstream and is high above a dumpster the rigs push it up onto the conveyor the conveyor picks it up from the water, lifts it up dumps it into the dumpster boats a very simple concept. We have solar panels with charged batteries And when the current of the river is insufficient to turn the wheel and provide enough power to run the conveyor. We pump water using the solar power, there is stored in the batteries to pump water from the river up into the buckets of the water wheel weight of the water turns Waterwheel and Carver's there. So it's, it's always getting its power is mechanical power from the water wheel, but sometimes the water wheel is getting its energy from flow of the river. And sometimes it's getting it from the solar power off. And then we also use the solar power to power cameras and an internet connection.>>Cool>> We don't have to be out there too man, It doesn't mean an operator out there to run the machine or even from the pumps on We can do that from our phones and we can see what's going on with it from our phones with the cameras that are mounted on board through the internet. So if we get some rain we'll look at phones see how much trash is coming down if the trash is coming down as being picked up worries if we need to turn on the pumps to help it along with turn on the pumps. And if the dumpsters full, we'll get somebody out there to change. So how are you able to raise money to build the first prototype and eventually the first Mr. Trash Will. I feel very fortunate to be in Baltimore The when I first came up with the idea, I took it to the city I built a little working model of it. I took it to the city. And I showed it to them and they were like, well, we really liked the idea that the city's not really sitting as city government. We're not really in a position to fund an experiment and this has never been done before. We don't really have a mechanism to do r&d and our budget. And so I went to a local foundation in Baltimore called the abl Foundation, and they agreed to finance the prototype. They were willing to take a risk on a new idea. And once we did the prototype, we weren't the only ones seeing the success. Everybody who works on the harbor news is the harbor lives on the harbor. Notice the difference in the trash wheel was making the condition harder and faster problem as soon as the prototype kind of Went through its test period, the group of business around the waterfront. Waterfront partnership of Baltimore business improvement districts said we need a permanent trash meal. They worked with us to come up with a budget and they went about raising money and it was good public private partnership where the state of Maryland Put in money, private utilities put in money. So there was a big group that came together around the trash wheel project and we were able to put Mr. Trash wheel in operation almost exactly seven years ago. They said it's time. It's picked up over 3 million pounds of trash, made a huge difference. It's generated attention, not only in Baltimore, but worldwide. And so now we're working on, we've got for trash wheels in Baltimore and we're working on projects in Panama city, Panama. In Fort Worth, Texas, Newport Beach California. So trash wheel is really aren't the solution is to the problem. There are great treatment for the symptoms of the disease. The real cure for the disease is to prevent that plastic pollution from ever getting in the water waste to begin with. Whether tha is policy changes, behavior changes, education. Those type of things are really the cure for the disease not using plastic. [INAUDIBLE] Yeah, because the problem is we use something that for five minutes in a water bottle for five minutes and if not disposed of properly, it becomes a problem for hundreds of years. And not just locally all the way up here. Yeah, so who's responsible for emptying Mr. Trash wheel, and does that happen on a daily basis that they have to empty it? Well, it's very much rain driven. Our crews are actually responsible. I started a company when I came up with the idea to build Fresh real water mills and are their water Mills is contracted to operate maintain the trash was in Baltimore.>> I wanted to ask is Mr. Trash wheel safe for animals? I saw a video that there's some ducks nesting and one of the Mr. Trash wheels but does it have any effect on the fish or any other wildlife in the area? That's a good question. The trash wheel moves very slowly. And that's actually to the benefit if you've watched Mr. Trash wheel work, picking up a lot of trash, but it's a very slow rate and that's actually good for the fact that aquatic animals don't get scooped up If you've ever tried to net a fish, if we go slowly, you're never going to catch the fast moving conveyor you're never going to catch fish. So the aquatic animals don't get picked up by the trash wheel because of the fact that it moves. So slowly Love it. And they like to play on it. They like to, nest on it. Sometimes I'd like them to go away cause they make a mess. What's actually a lot of the animals like it because when we're pumping water and turning that water wheel, we're also putting oxygen in the water. So you'll actually see. Pools of fish gather around the oxygen levels low and summertime in the harbor. They'll gather around because there's a oxygen rich spot right next to the trash. The fish like it, the ducks like it too much and Once in a while we'll get a terrestrial animal that's been washed down and the first place it can get out of the water is on the trash. Once we had a somebodies pet Python must have gotten loose and we saw it on the camera coming up the conveyor and we actually saw it crawl off the conveyor And so the next day my crew was out there and I called him and I said, see if there's a big snake somewhere on there. l [LAUGH] And he said no, I don't see any big snake and about a half an hour later he goes I found the big snake and the snake was curled up on top of the solar charge controllers which is a warm a warm spot because Produce heat. And we said that's not a negative thing. So we call the National Aquarium and both are in the sun over the reptile guy and he said, Yeah, that's a ball python and somebody. He just picked it right up. We're all terrified. [LAUGH] He picked it right up and put it in a sack and took it away for adoption. That's cool. So it's kind of a refuge for animals as opposed to [CROSSTALK], yeah, it's great.>> To a certain extent it's a refuge for animals. That's great. So I noticed Mr. Trash will has a face it has a persona has a social media presence. So whose idea was it to give it a persona? Not mine. [LAUGH] I have focused on our company has focused on on making it eat. The trash and waterphone partnership with Baltimore has been a great partner who is the sponsor and owner of the trash wheels, has given them all individual personality and persona Made them speak. So please join me and the crew of Clearwater mills in welcoming Gwenda the good. We'll have the West [SOUND] They're not only eating up the trash they're also advocating for cleaner environment and spreading the message of note. Don't feed the trash we'll be part of the solution that's been very successful. You know, one of the first started this project I thought the best, biggest reward that could come from it would be Santa cleaner harbour, but equally, equally as rewarding has been sitting people motivated to become part of the solution, particularly young people. You see kids Coming up with their own ideas for cleaning up the water, whether it's Legos, robotics, scout groups, they'll get inspired by the trash wheel and try to do something similar and become part of the solution and I think that's right. Have the wording one of the equal benefits of the trash wheel is to spread the message as well.>> It's fantastic. I think it's such a great idea. So currently there's three working Mr trash wheels Are there plans for more in the near future? Well, there's four. There's four of them. The fourth one would be online or crew is working on it as we speak to get it online and it'll be just a matter of days before [UNKNOWN]. It's installed, it is fully constructed. All we need to do now is get the dumpsters on board and get them hooked up the Internet connection done and we'll be in a trash so we're just days away from having worked on online. The status quo has been always been to let the trash go on downstream and become somebody else's problem. And taking on a trash with a project where you're suddenly making that trash your problem or organization or city government takes resources so you need to not only fund the capital investment of it, but, trash costs money to get rid of, and it costs money to truck money to move the handle. Trash wheels one of the most efficient ways of doing that in the cheapest place. Still an investment when you're talking about 3 million pounds of trash got to get rid of. I see. That make sense. So what are your future plans for Mr. Trash wheel and clear water mills in general? We hope that the trash wheel is sort of a bridge to a better future when it comes to trash. But dozen years ago, when I started this effort and came up with the idea, it wasn't a whole lot of focus on things like ocean Plastics and you know what? It's doing to the coral reefs and you didn't see these pictures and third. Six Pack rings around their necks or or nearly as much as you do now. I mean today, I think a lot of people, most people are aware that plastics that we're using are more than just an aesthetic problem. In our waters and our thought of our highways, environmental hazard that's could be have lasting impacts for generations and will have lasting impacts for generations unless we do something about it. And I hope that the trash wheels that we're working on now continue to generate interest in, Dressing that not just through stopping it from getting in the arbours in the ocean base, but also from changing our behaviour so that we're not leaving a legacy of waste. So when you're walking over that footpath crossing the river, what do you see now and how does it make you feel? Well, what we see now, I mean, footbridge is really just upstream of the trash wheel and you get to look, right down right into the face of Mr. Trash wheel and see it working away. And I never envisioned that we would have googly eyes on this machine. That's a name for it. And a beer. And the Trash Wheel t-shirts, and the Trash Wheel fan club, and a trash wheel fan fest and it's kind of beyond my wildest dreams with what's happened in Baltimore. And it's not just Baltimore, it's following all over the Internet, following all over the world. And people come from miles away to come see Mr Trash Wheel. I never would have imagined that. So I'm kind of still regularly sort of, scratching my head saying I can't believe this little idea that I came up with it on napkins had this sort of impact but very pleased that it has For that impact that other folks will work on this problem and a half as much or more of an impact. So my guest today has been John Keller, the creator of Mr. Trash Wheel and the founder of Clear Water Mills. John, thanks a lot for talking to me. I really appreciate it. My pleasure. [MUSIC]

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