As much as we love highlighting new and interesting technologies, sometimes old technologies prove to be the best. This is definitely the case in Baltimore where a giant water wheel is removing tons of trash every day from the water, keeping it from ending up in the ocean. This centuries-old technology is quickly becoming the best solution yet for keeping plastic out of the oceans.
The Inner Harbor Water Wheel sits at the mouth of the Jones Falls River where it empties into the Inner Harbor. This river is fed into by the entire Jones Falls Watershed which encompasses 58-square miles of land where tiny streams all lead to the Jones Falls River, which empties into the harbor. Any trash that ends up on the street or ground instead of in trash cans or recycling bins ends up in storm drains, heading down that river and eventually making its way to the Chesapeake Bay and the Atlantic Ocean.
The water wheel sits at the perfect place to collect all of this debris before it can make it any farther and it's working really well. Every day since May 16 when it was installed, it has removed tons of debris from the water, with about 63 tons collected as of July 7. It's capable of processing 25 tons a day, though it hasn't ever processed more than about 5 tons in a day.
The wheel works because the current of the river provides power to turn the water wheel. The wheel lifts trash and debris from the water and deposits it in a dumpster barge. When there isn't enough current to turn the wheel, a solar panel array keeps the wheel moving. When the dumpster is full, a boat comes to tow it away and replace it with a new one.
The great news is that any city with tightly-controlled tributaries can have the same success with this technology. An entire watershed's trash and debris can be prevented from reaching the ocean.
The trash collected by the water wheel is taken to a waste-to-energy plant where it is burned to produce electricity. The debris can't be recycled because after rainstorms the runoff also includes sewage making the trash hazardous material.
The solar water wheel has become a bit of a celebrity. It has its own Twitter account @MrTrashWheel and a YouTube video of the wheel in action has gotten over a million views.
You can watch the video below.