Mark Byrnes is a senior associate editor at CityLab who writes about design and architecture.
The water and solar-powered device is expected to pick up as much as 800,000 pounds of garbage a year.
Baltimore wants its Inner Harbor to be clean enough for swimming and fishing by 2020. And it's counting on a big solar-powered wheel attached to a Dumpster to make it happen.
Earlier this month, the sleek, 14-foot high "Water Wheel" set up a permanent spot for itself at the mouth of the Jones Falls, where the river meets Baltimore's biggest tourist destination, the Inner Harbor.
The floating device, powered by nothing more than water current and solar energy, works by sucking up litter as it reaches the harbor. Guided by booms, the debris, which travels down from various points along the Jones Falls watershed, goes straight into the giant wheel and its built-in conveyor belt. From there, the garbage falls into a Dumpster on the other side. When the Dumpster fills up, it's sent out and replaced with an empty one.
Invented by Baltimore-based Clearwater Mills, this is the first permanent version of their water-based garbage collector. An original version, which looked like a 19th century water mill and debuted in 2008, removed 130,000 pounds of Jones Falls garbage in a month, but it couldn't quite handle the workload. After being relocated by the Department of Public Works, it was removed completely in 2011.
A collection of public and private organizations footed the $800,000 bill to buy the new Water Wheel, which comes with a 20-year life expectancy. A little more than a week after its debut, it faced its first major rain storm, removing, according to the Waterfront Partnership, 50,000 pounds (or four full Dumpsters) of trash.