Garbage Collection Planned for Buffalo Bayou TrashCat™ Skimmer Boat to Begin Trolling Waterway, Collecting Debris Next Spring


Photo by Joshua Trujillo, Houston Chronicle June 13, 2003


A TrashCat™ Model MS8-1500A
is shown at the dock, ready to go to work.

In June, 2003, the Buffalo Bayou Partnership, in conjunction with its partners the Port of Houston, Harris County, and the Harris County Flood Control District, commissioned a new trash skimmer vessel named the “Mighty Tidy”, specially designed to remove floating trash and debris from the Buffalo Bayou.  The skimmer vessel, a TrashCat™ brand model from United Marine International, will clean a 16 mile stretch of this 65 mile historic waterway which connects downtown Houston with Galveston Bay and the Port of Houston.

The Buffalo Bayou Partnership and its partners were the impetus behind a $6.5 billion 20 year master plan to redevelop Houston’s historic waterway into a pedestrian-oriented waterfront district.  Acquiring the trash skimmer was a major initial step in the implementation of this award-winning master plan.

“The launch of the TrashCat™ skimmer boat signifies a new beginning for Buffalo Bayou – one that will create a unified Buffalo Bayou District where nature becomes a part of the new urban vitality”, said Anne Olson, President of Buffalo Bayou Partnership.  Added Jim Edwards, the Chairman of the Houston Port Authority, “The Port Authority is proud to deliver an innovative solution to the problem of visual pollution we have experienced along the Buffalo Bayou.  The Bayou is a tremendous environmental resource that must be protected.  The skimmer boat is a part of our continuing commitment to good environmental stewardship.”

Environmental Education Opportunity

The Buffalo Bayou Partnership demonstrated a keen awareness of the opportunity for promoting its master plan objectives in how it implemented the trash skimmer project.  The Partnership sponsored a vessel naming contest amongst Houston area elementary school children, with “Mighty Tidy”, the winning entry, earning area 4th grader Haley Hendrix a $500 savings bond.  “Mighty Tidy” beat out “Stinky Pinky” and “Captain Clean”, among others. According to Gretchen Ferguson, Director of Public Relations for the Partnership, “We are going to go into the schools to teach the students about the skimmer boat and what it can do, and teach them that if you litter in your front yard it can end up in Galveston Bay.”  Further, the Partnership drew attention to the TrashCat™ and its clean-up mission by hiring the well-known and offbeat Houston art design firm, The Art Guys, who recommended painting the boat hot-pink and to paste cartoon-like eyes on the vessel’s bow “to give it personality.”  Over 250 people attended the commissioning ceremony, and many thousands more will watch it perform its 5 day-a-week operations.

The TrashCat™ is a United Marine International Model #MS8-1500A, which has the capacity to pick up and store 1500 pounds  (680 kg) of floating debris and off-load via its self-unloading conveyor to a shore-based conveyor and into dumpsters.  It can handle items varying from the hated omni-present plastic bags. to Styrofoam cups. to telephone poles.  Aaron Tuley, Director of Planning for the Buffalo Bayou Partnership, noted his satisfaction with the skimmer’s performance, stating “This vessel’s trash-collecting capability has far exceeded all of our working assumptions regarding the quantity of trash that can be collected in a given amount of time. The skimmer boat will definitely help accelerate the Master Plan’s overarching vision of restoring the bayou to an ecologically functioning system.”

Harbor Security Enhanced

Harris County Flood Control District Director Mike Talbot noted that the TrashCat™ will be used for more than just beautification.  “Now we will have constant reconnaissance along the Bayou, and the TrashCat’s crew members will be telling us about what they see, and observing the bridges.” Further, debris removal will improve navigation and alleviate flood risks.

As Max Schuette, the Chairman of the Buffalo Bayou Partnership, observed, the clean-up operations of the TrashCat™ will take the Partnership closer to its “dream of a Houston Ship Channel whose water quality can be, will be, and should be better than that of any other river in the United States today.”

To read more about Houston’s “Mighty Tidy” trash skimming project, go to the Buffalo Bayou Partnership web site at

For more information, contact:
E-mail:  [email protected]
Phone:  800-243-1406 US only, or 715-246-2888
Fax:      715-246-2573

December 24, 2002

Copyright 2002 Houston Chronicle Environment Writer

Garbage collection in Houston is about to take to the water.

A $240,000 skimmer boat, similar to models used on waterways from Austin to Rio de Janeiro, will troll the waters of Buffalo Bayou for trash, startingnext spring.

Two garbage collectors will operate the vessel five days a week on an 11-mile route from the West Loop to Shepherd Drive.

The boat will capture bobbing debris — as big as a telephone pole to as small as a plastic cup — washed into the bayou through city storm drains and street runoff. It will also have attachments to snatch plastic sacks and other trash snagged in trees during high winds and floods.

While there are programs aimed at preventing trash and other pollution from getting into waterways in the first place, collecting the litter once it reaches the bayou has largely been left to volunteers.

The Port of Houston Authority clears the channel of large items that impede navigation, said Felicia Griffin, a port authority spokeswoman. Same goes for the county’s Flood Control District, which scoops trash out of the water mainly when it interrupts water flow.

“There’s not an entity out there that claims responsibility for the bayou’s cleanup,” said Anne Olson, president of the Buffalo Bayou Partnership, which will oversee the vessel’s operations and pay the collectors’ $28,000 annual salaries. That means, she said, that a coffee cup dumped in a storm drain near Memorial Park will wind its way to Galveston Bay.

The Port of Houston Authority and Harris County bought the boat, now under construction by New Jersey-based United Marine International.

County and port officials said daily garbage collection is more than cosmetic — it also will improve flood control and navigation.

“The goal is to catch the trash before it gets into the navigational channel,” Griffin said. “Small things, as they continue to float down the bayou, can pick up other pieces of debris, and it gets larger and larger.”

The boat, known as the TrashCat™, skims the water with large metal mandibles, feeding the trash onto a conveyor belt that then dumps the refuse into a 1500-pound storage bin at the center of the vessel.

Other cities that have purchased the same model include New York City, Baltimore and Austin, which has one to clean up Town Lake.

Source:  Houston Chronicle