Wanda, Latin America’s first sustainable wheel that catches floating garbage

By Ana de León

Panama City, May 14 (EFE).- Plastics, cans and bags full of organic garbage are some of the kinds of waste that float down the opaque waters of the Juan Diaz River, one of the most polluted rivers in Panama City, which can now be caught and recycled by Wanda.

Wanda, an acronym for Wheel and Action, is the first fully sustainable wheel in Latin America and the Caribbean that collects floating garbage from the river, preventing it from reaching Panama Bay.

“The ultimate goal is to recover what can be recovered to give it a second life, and what is not, will be disposed of in the right way,” the executive director of the Panamanian NGO Marea Verde, Sandy Watemberg, who brought the project to the Central American country, tells Efe.

The Juan Díaz River is one of the main tributaries that crosses the Panamanian capital, surrounded by a protected area of mangroves – a vitally important ecosystem for flora and fauna because of it protects against erosion and storm surges – that are home to numerous types of birds.

“It is one of the rivers that flows into the Bay of Panama and one of the most polluted by garbage,” Watemberg says, while adding that there is “great biodiversity” and “endless life in this river”.

Marea Verde, which has experience in floating waste collection projects, secured the funds to bring this first automatic river trash collection system to the region through a competition with the Benioff Oceans Initiative and the Coca-Cola Foundation.

The idea originated in Baltimore, with US engineer John Kellet, who built “Mr. Trash Wheel,” a cute wheel with googly eyes.

The NGO operates in another river in the capital with the “Bob” system, a floating barrier that collected approximately 100 tons of garbage in a year and a half, but “there is no real number or study” of the amount of waste in Panama’s waterways, according to Watemberg.

With the help of the “Bob”, Wanda catches the floating waste and lifts it with the wheel until it is taken to a platform equipped with “high quality technology” to separate “what can be recycled and what cannot. In this way we will make the most of the waste,” Watemberg explains.

Wanda runs on two types of renewable energy: hydro and solar. It has a semi-oval shape that allows photovoltaic energy to be collected through solar panels.

“The force of the river will provide energy to start the device and if there is not enough energy from the water, it will collect it from the sun,” she adds.

Wanda “has other components” – a scientific and a social one – Watemberg says, explaining that by means of artificial intelligence cameras it will be possible to obtain all the information of what is being collected.

The data collected will allow Marea Verde to “create a baseline and propose public policies” on the environment.

“And to work with the community, (because) neither Wanda nor Bob are the long-term solution. We need people to change their habits, to dispose of waste in the right way, to start recycling,” she says.

“We will work with the surrounding communities to understand what are the realities, obstacles and alternatives to avoid using these technologies and have a clean river,” she adds. EFE


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