Wanda, a sustainable wheel in Juan Diaz River

Panama waves magic Wanda to catch floating garbage

Image credit: Marea Verde

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

The Juan Díaz is one of the most polluted rivers in Panama. From cans and discarded plastics to bags full of organic garbage, the waste the river carries has darkened its waters. Now, instead of letting the waste build-up, the city’s authorities have devised a plan to catch and recycle it.

Wanda - an acronym for 'Wheel and Action' - is the first sustainable wheel in Latin America able to capture floating garbage.

“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,” Sandy Watemberg, executive director of the Panamanian NGO Marea Verde, told Efe.

The Juan Díaz River is one of the main tributaries that flow into the Panama Bay, surrounded by a protected area of mangroves that are home to numerous types of birds.

The idea for Wanda originated in Baltimore with US engineer John Kellet, who built 'Mr. Trash Wheel' - a wheel with googly eyes. Marea Verde 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.

Image of Wanda

Wanda, image by Marea Verde

Image credit: Marea Verde

The NGO has previous experience with floating waste collection projects, as it 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. 

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" to make the best use of the waste. 

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,” Watemberg added.

Wanda has two additional components: one scientific and one social. By means of artificial intelligence cameras, the team is expected to be able to use Wanda to obtain all the information regarding the types of waste collected. The data collected will allow Marea Verde to “create a baseline and propose public policies” on the environment as well as help raise awareness of the waste disposal challenge that local communities face.

“Neither Wanda nor Bob are the long-term solution,” Watemberg said. “We need people to change their habits, to dispose of waste in the right way, to start recycling. 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.”

Sign up to the E&T News e-mail to get great stories like this delivered to your inbox every day.

Recent articles