31 Days of Happiness Countdown: the googly-eyed river barge that eats litter. (Day 16)

Thanks for stopping by for Day 16 of Upworthy's 31 Days of Happiness Countdown! If this is your first visit, here's the gist: Each day between Dec. 1 and Dec. 31, we're sharing stories we hope will bring joy, smiles, and laughter into your life. It's been a challenging year, so why not end it on a high note? Check back tomorrow (or click the links at the bottom) for another installment!

Picking up trash isn't the most glamorous job, but it is an important one. In Baltimore's Inner Harbor, that effort is led by a wise-cracking, anthropomorphic, googly-eyed conveyor belt named Mr. Trash Wheel. At a time when America is gearing up to make coal smog its national bird and give oil companies unfettered access to public lands, it's hard not to feel a tiny twinge of hope that one city now sports a 16-foot-long floating dumpster whose job it is to eat litter. Not to mention, he's awesome.


I mean ... just look at him:

Photo by Dicklyon/Wikimedia Commons.

Mr. Trash Wheel was installed in 2014 by the Waterfront Partnership of Baltimore. So far, he's cleaned up over 1 million pounds of refuse from the city's waterways. His heroics have inspired T-shirts, dozens of Halloween costumes, a beer, several Choose-Your-Own-Adventure stories, and even a tribute song.

If you don't live in Baltimore, you should follow him on Twitter, where he makes waterway conservation weird and hilarious on a daily basis.

In December 2016, the Waterfront Partnership installed a second garbage collector, named Professor Trash Wheel, expanding the trash clean-up effort further down the harbor.

Her up-river colleague welcomed her with open arms.

Thanks to the project's success, other cities have begun installing similar devices. Mr. Trash Wheel, naturally, is a big fan — but occasionally offers some unsolicited notes.

Getting people invested in the tireless work of conservation is no mean feat. For managing to make the process of hauling empty beer bottles, used tires, and the occasional pet snake out of the water 1,000% more entertaining, Mr. Trash Wheel earned national respect, local hero status, and a fanatically devoted following.

Your holiday season will be a billion times more magical if you hitch a ride on the Trash Wheel bandwagon.

More days of happiness here: DAY 1 / DAY 2 / DAY 3 / DAY 4 / DAY 5 / DAY 6 / DAY 7 / DAY 8 / DAY 9 / DAY 10 / DAY 11 / DAY 12 / DAY 13 / DAY 14 / DAY 15 / [DAY 16] / DAY 17 / DAY 18 / DAY 19 / DAY 20 / DAY 21 / DAY 22 / DAY 23 / DAY 24 / DAY 25 / DAY 26 / DAY 27 / DAY 28 / DAY 29 / DAY 30 / DAY 31
Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels
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Increasingly customers are looking for more conscious shopping options. According to a Nielsen survey in 2018, nearly half (48%) of U.S. consumers say they would definitely or probably change their consumption habits to reduce their impact on the environment.

But while many consumers are interested in spending their money on products that are more sustainable, few actually follow through. An article in the 2019 issue of Harvard Business Review revealed that 65% of consumers said they want to buy purpose-driven brands that advocate sustainability, but only about 26% actually do so. It's unclear where this intention gap comes from, but thankfully it's getting more convenient to shop sustainably from many of the retailers you already support.

Amazon recently introduced Climate Pledge Friendly, "a new program to help make it easy for customers to discover and shop for more sustainable products." When you're browsing Amazon, a Climate Pledge Friendly label will appear on more than 45,000 products to signify they have one or more different sustainability certifications which "help preserve the natural world, reducing the carbon footprint of shipments to customers," according to the online retailer.

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In order to distinguish more sustainable products, the program partnered with a wide range of external certifications, including governmental agencies, non-profits, and independent laboratories, all of which have a focus on preserving the natural world.

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If the past year has taught us nothing else, it's that sending love out into the world through selfless acts of kindness can have a positive ripple effect on people and communities. People all over the United States seemed to have gotten the message — 71% of those surveyed by the World Giving Index helped a stranger in need in 2020. A nonprofit survey found 90% helped others by running errands, calling, texting and sending care packages. Many people needed a boost last year in one way or another and obliging good neighbors heeded the call over and over again — and continue to make a positive impact through their actions in this new year.

Upworthy and P&G Good Everyday wanted to help keep kindness going strong, so they partnered up to create the Lead with Love Fund. The fund awards do-gooders in communities around the country with grants to help them continue on with their unique missions. Hundreds of nominations came pouring in and five winners were selected based on three criteria: the impact of action, uniqueness, and "Upworthy-ness" of their story.

Here's a look at the five winners:

Edith Ornelas, co-creator of Mariposas Collective in Memphis, Tenn.

Edith Ornelas has a deep-rooted connection to the asylum-seeking immigrant families she brings food and supplies to families in Memphis, Tenn. She was born in Jalisco, Mexico, and immigrated to the United States when she was 7 years old with her parents and sister. Edith grew up in Chicago, then moved to Memphis in 2016, where she quickly realized how few community programs existed for immigrants. Two years later, she helped create Mariposas Collective, which initially aimed to help families who had just been released from detention centers and were seeking asylum. The collective started out small but has since grown to approximately 400 volunteers.