This ‘trash wheel’ could remove 50,000 pounds of litter per day from the Trinity River

November 18,2020

See full Fort Worth Star-Telegram article by Haley Samsel here.

After seeing piles of plastic floating on the Trinity River over the summer, Kathryn Hansen decided that the trash wheel was going to become her “winter project.” She planned to contact officials at the Tarrant Regional Water District or anyone else she could find who worked on pollution in the Trinity, and convince them to build a water wheel-powered interceptor that was pioneered in Baltimore’s harbors and is under development in cities across the country.

“I was just going to bombard them with pictures that I take along the river of all the trash and say what an embarrassment it is, and that this seems like a really good, simple solution that the community can get excited about,” said Hansen, who runs a Facebook group focused on eco-friendly dining and shopping in Fort Worth.

That was her plan, until Hansen found out that city officials were already working on their own version of Baltimore’s Mr. Trash Wheel, a solar and water-powered machine that funnels trash floating on the water’s surface onto a conveyor belt and into a nearby dumpster. Since its installation in 2014, the Mr. Trash Wheel has become a mascot of sorts, inspiring a festival, local beers and “Keepin it Wheel” merchandise.

Brandon Bennett, Fort Worth’s code compliance and public health director, has pushed for bringing a water wheel to the city for the better part of two years, casting the project as a chance for Fort Worth to show visitors and residents that they are dedicated to a cleaner Trinity. The city is working with the cooperation of the Tarrant Regional Water District, which is charged with maintaining and cleaning 27 miles of the Trinity River floodway.

“We’re not only cleaning up our waterway, but also making something a focal point both for the community to get behind less litter and when tourists come to town, they see that Fort Worth is committed to a cleaner environment,” Bennett said.

Although Bennett originally hoped for the water wheel to be in construction by the end of 2020, COVID-19 stopped the project in its tracks as city officials confronted fallout from the pandemic. Clearwater Mills, the company behind Baltimore’s three wheels, has already been contracted to design a covered wagon-themed version for Fort Worth, building off the city’s “Where the West Begins” motto.

Depending on how much trash is in the Trinity and the speed of the river’s current, the water wheel can remove more than 50,000 pounds of solid waste per day, said Cody Whittenburg, Fort Worth’s environmental manager. Because the wheel operates at a low speed, its rakes and conveyor belt used to collect trash deter fish and other wildlife away from the machine before they can be harmed, according to educational materials provided by Baltimore’s Mr. Trash Wheel program.

“We most certainly want to clean up our river, particularly the floatables and surface litter, so that when people go down to recreate or picnic, they don’t have to look at the collection of litter that either floats down the river or is collected down the river,” Bennett said.

As part of the Keep Fort Worth Beautiful initiative, environmental officials hope to raise at least $100,000 from corporations and residents to pay for the construction of what Bennett hopes will be the first of several wheels built in Fort Worth. Bennett said he is not worried about finding sponsors for the wheel, which will likely be located in downtown near Trinity Park.

“This is something where people can invest their money and then see immediate results,” Bennett said. “Here’s the litter today, we have the water wheel in place, and there’s no litter tomorrow.”