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What is plastic pollution?

Most of the marine pollution comes from land. Marine debris is mainly discarded human rubbish which floats on, or is suspended in the ocean. Eighty percent of marine debris is plastic – a component that has been rapidly accumulating since the end of World War II.[1] Plastic pollution is the accumulation of plastic objects in the Earth’s environment that adversely affects wildlife, wildlife habitat, and humans.


stop plastic pollution

The mass of plastic in the oceans may be as high as 100,000,000 tonnes.[2] Discarded plastic waste will cause dangers to wildlife and fisheries. Aquatic life can be threatened through entanglement, suffocation, and ingestion. Fishing nets, usually made of plastic, can be left or lost in the ocean by fishermen. When the aquatic life entwine by these discarded fishing nets, they might be starvation, laceration, or infection. Plastics accumulate because they don’t biodegradable in the way many other substances do. They will enter the ocean food chain when animals that live on or in the sea eat them by mistake.

In Baltimore, trash in our streams and along shorelines is a highly visible source of water pollution. Caused by illegal dumping and littering, debris in our streams is more than an eyesore. Trash in our waterways can be harmful to our health, the environment, and our local economy.

Because trash is so visible, many civic groups and community associations are working hard to remedy the problem. Most of the pollution caused by bottles, bags, foam containers, and other trash in our streets and streams. Our work includes outreach, education, and partnerships to focus on preventing the trash from entering the water in the first place.[3]


Solutions to Curb the Trash

Baltimore has long wrestled with how to stop the never-ending flow of trash into our waterways. We aim to address local sanitation problems such as the improper disposal of household garbage, overflowing street corner trash cans, litter on sidewalks and in gutters and storm drains. Our focus is on addressing both the systemic issues with local sanitation as well as the individual behavior change necessary to achieve the livable neighborhoods and clean waterways that all of Baltimore’s communities desire.


Mr. Trash Wheel

There is a trash-eating waterwheel helped clean up a harbor, named Mr. Trash Wheel, officially called the Inner Harbor Water Wheel. Mr. Trash Wheel was invented by John Kellett in 2008, who launched a pilot vessel at that time. A larger vessel was later developed; it replaced the pilot vessel and was launched in May 2014. Rubbish from the streets of Baltimore is flushed into storm drains that empty into the Jones Falls river. The floating rubbish is then carried by the river to its outlet into the Inner Harbor, where it is captured by Mr. Trash Wheel.[4]

Mr. Trash Wheel is powered by the current from the river, and backup power is provided by solar panels when the current is sluggish. Mr. Trash Wheel removes floating debris using rotating forks that dip into and out of the water, and which then place the trash onto a conveyor belt which moves it into a dumpster. The water wheel can be controlled remotely on the Internet. Mr. Trash Wheel was constructed using $720,000 of public and private funding.[5] On April 20, 2015, after the first significant rain storm of the season, Mr. Trash Wheel removed 19 tons of garbage from Baltimore’s waterfront on that one day. The previous record for debris removal occurred on May 16, 2014, when the machine removed 11 tons of refuse on that day.[6]

Two additional “members” of the Trash Wheel “family” have since been added to patrol the Inner Harbor; the Canton-based female-gendered Professor Trash Wheel in December 2016, and the gender-neutral Captain Trash Wheel in June 2018 at Masonville Cove.


Plastic waste generation per person, 2010

In the chart below we see the total plastic waste generation by country, measured in tonnes per year. This therefore takes account of per capita waste generation and population size. This estimate is available only for the year 2010, but as we see later in this entry, the relative global picture is similar in projections to 2025.

With the largest population, China produced the largest quantity of plastic, at nearly 60 million tonnes. This was followed by the United States at 38 million.

Like the per capita figures above, note that these figures represent total plastic waste generation and do not account for differences in waste management, recycling or incineration. They therefore do not represent quantities of plastic at risk of loss to the ocean or other waterways.



[1] Weisman, Alan (2007). The World Without Us. St. Martin‘s Thomas Dunne Books. ISBN 978-0-312-34729-1.
[2] Jump up to: “Plastic Debris: from Rivers to Sea”. Algalita Marine Research Foundation. Archived from the original on 19 August 2008. Retrieved 29 May 2008.
[3] “Trash.” Blue Water Baltimore, 10 July 2018.
[4] Botero, Julia (June 23, 2014). “Baltimore’s Water Wheel Keeps On Turning, Pulling In Tons Of Trash”. NPR. Retrieved March 18, 2017.
[5] Snow, Jackie (February 17, 2017). “Googly-Eyed Trash Eaters May Clean a Harbor Near You”. National Geographic.
[6] Burris, Joe (April 22, 2015). “Water Wheel scoops 19 tons of Inner Harbor trash in one day”. The Baltimore Sun. Retrieved March 16, 2017.



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