Cleaning Up With Robots


Baltimore water wheel | Brendan Baker

Visitors can learn about how the Trash Interceptor works while watching it cleanup the water! | Brendan Baker

Every time I go out on the water I end up with a few pieces of trash in my boat that I scooped up as they floated by. Most paddlers or anglers I know carry a trash bag with them to collect trash they see on the water. Occasionally I hear stories from folks who went out for a leisurely paddle and suddenly find that they have filled their boat with bags of litter!

Nabbing a plastic bottle out of the current can be a difficult task. I’ve nearly capsized after a poorly timed reach! And usually the sweet taste of victory is washed away when I notice all of the trash that has floated past me downstream while I struggled over a single bottle or wrapper.

While river cleanups are important and make an impact we all know that the trash keeps coming back. Our ultimate goal is to stop the flow of trash into our waterways but we’re not there yet so we keep on cleaning up. But what do we do in areas where there is just too much trash for volunteers to keep up with? This happens in many areas downstream where tributaries come together or in urban areas like our towns and cities where floods or storm water carry trash into the water.

The city of Baltimore took a big step towards addressing this issue recently by installing the world’s first permanent water wheel trash interceptor.This 14 foot high trash interceptor is expected to remove 600,000-800,000lbs of trash a year! Powered by the water current and a solar panel array the interceptor catches and funnels trash onto a conveyer belt that removes it from the water.

Baltimore water wheel | Brendan Baker

Solar panels and a water wheel provide a clean and renewable power source, while buoys catch and funnel trash out of the water | Brendan Baker

If you think that’s cool what about a giant floating vacuum cleaner? In last month’s issue of TIME James Dyson proposed the “Recyclonator,” a barge specially designed to catch, suck up, and filter debris and litter from rivers using the same technology as the Dyson vacuum cleaners you might use at home!

Do you know of any other creative ways people are cleaning up trash from rivers? Let us know in the comments below

Trash getting you down and want to do more? Join or start a river cleanup today as part of the National River Cleanup!