Produced by the Office of Marketing and Communications
Baltimore’s Mr. Trash Wheel, Helmed by UMD Alum, Cleans Up City’s Waterways
Photo courtesy of Healthy Harbor
Mr. Trash Wheel has seen some things with those great, bulging eyes of his. Plastic bags, cigarette butts and lipstick-ringed coffee cups, sure, but an acoustic guitar and a live python have also crossed this Baltimore icon’s path.
Bobbing where the Jones Falls flows into the Inner Harbor, Mr. Trash Wheel is a waterwheel that “eats” detritus floating in the stream, to the delight of children, tourists and environmentalists. Part of the nonprofit Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore’s Healthy Harbor Initiative, the wheel has become a cherished symbol of Charm City since its 2014 inception.
Adam Lindquist MCP ’10, vice president of the Healthy Harbor Initiative, oversees Mr. Trash Wheel’s operations, and was a key part of its birth. Working with local sustainable technology business Clearwater Mills, he developed the initial prototype of Mr. Trash Wheel, and came up with the distinctive feature that transformed the waste eater into a character: its wide-open eyes.
“We thought, why don’t we give this thing googly eyes and a name?” said Lindquist. He crafted the first version of the eyes out of insulation board before their current iteration, a more permanent steel. A video of the new contraption soon went viral, turning the trash fighter into an oddball local celebrity, just a few notches down from John Waters and “Ace of Cakes” Duff Goldman.
Mr. Trash Wheel was tasked with cleaning the waterways that feed Baltimore’s Inner Harbor as well as serving as a spokeswheel for the project. The revitalization of the Inner Harbor in the second half of the 20th century had pulled the area out of a post-industrial slump and created a tourism showplace other cities would emulate. But the beautification didn’t extend to the water itself; after heavy rains, the harbor would turn into “a giant mass of floating trash,” said Lindquist, rendering it unappealing for any kind of activity.
Lindquist was among those who yearned for a cleaner, more inviting waterfront. A native of Elmira, N.Y., he’d grown up hiking through the gorges of Watkins Glen and Ithaca, and swimming in the Finger Lakes. After going to college nearby for a degree in interdisciplinary studies, he worked on watershed issues in Providence, R.I., and was struck by a passion for water management after seeing the devastation of Hurricane Katrina. At the University of Maryland, he earned a master’s degree in community planning.
“I chose UMD because it was a very flexible program that allowed me to take a lot of electives outside of the architecture school … to really focus on water issues,” he said.
Soon after graduation, Lindquist took a position with the Waterfront Partnership, and began working with the Baltimore sustainable tech company Clearwater Mills on their new effort to build sustainable trash interceptors, as mechanisms like Mr. Trash Wheel are known.
Lindquist knew that “if we’re going to put a trash interceptor in the water, it needs to be engaging,” he said. So he and his team came up with a name and a personality–one billed by the Waterfront Partnership as loving “pizza boxes, pythons and Star Wars.” Recently, Mr. Trash Wheel tweeted a photo of two pigeons facing off over a tangle of spilled spaghetti noodles with the caption, “If Lady and the Tramp was filmed in Baltimore.”
Mr. Trash Wheel is more than a goofy shtick. Since 2014, he and his later-arriving friends, Professor Trash Wheel, Captain Trash Wheel and Gwynda the Good Wheel of the West, have picked up 2,362 tons of trash from their locations along Baltimore’s waterfront. The New Yorker called the Trash Wheels “arguably the most beloved and sensible anti-plastic-pollution mechanisms in the country.” The wheels have garnered attention from The Guardian, CBS, NBC, PBS and beyond.
This month, on Earth Day, the Waterfront Partnership will celebrate Mr. Trash Wheel’s ninth birthday. Thanks to Baltimore’s Peabody Heights Brewery, they can raise a special glass in his honor; the beer-makers’ draft list includes the citrusy IPA Mr. Trash Wheel’s Lost Python Ale and Professor Trash Wheel Blinded Me Wit Science, a wit beer.
And, of course, there will be dessert. “We’ll make a trash birthday cake and feed it to Mr. Trash Wheel,” said Lindquist.
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