How Former Smoker’s Gutter Bin Cleans up Water
It began with a hatred of cigarette butts…
Seeing the stained ends squashed on streets and in gutters has bothered Brian Deurloo for pretty much as long as he can remember. He recalls being on a backpacking trip in Australia 20 years ago and thinking about it even back then. A former smoker himself, he wondered why people couldn’t just throw their butts away rather than using the ground as a waste can.
“They’re killing our water,” he said, ticking off a laundry list of the toxic chemicals found in cigarette butts, including arsenic, nicotine and various heavy metals and polycyclic hydrocarbons, all of which Deurloo said are released into the environment, eventually finding their way into rivers and municipal water supplies. Don’t get him started on the impact that pollutants like these have on streams and rivers and marine ecology in general.
Originally from Sheridan, Duerloo worked for years as an engineer in the oil and gas industry in Casper, where the cigarette butt problem has exasperated him for years.
“Casper has highest rate of smokers in the nation,” he said. “They’re everywhere, outside front doors and bars.”
During that time, he’d been playing around with ideas and various inventions for cleaning up the streets, cigarettes in particular. Finally, in 2005, during an industry downturn when he was convinced he’d soon be facing a layoff, he quit his job and decided to do what he’d been talking about doing for years, start his own company and finally come up with a product to clean up the streets.
It would take years, lots of bad ideas, missteps and running down rabbit holes until he finally came up with a solution so easy that it was genius. He remembers it clearly. It was his daughter’s eighth birthday, when he came up with the idea for a prototype in the early morning. By 4 a.m., he was shopping for parts at Walmart. It was an inspiring moment, which in his mind was the best gift he could have ever given her.
There are approximately 40 million catch basins in the United States
The Gutter Bin, which is like a big sink strainer for gutters and manholes, filters out cigar butts and other pollutants from rain water and city streets, and catches them inside of a large mesh bag attached underneath. He calls this the Mundus Bag (Latin for “clean world”) that separates out the gunk while allowing water to easily pass through. It stops trash like plastics from running off the streets and into the storm drains that then go into rivers and lakes. There are also different kinds of Mundus Bags, for trash and vegetative waste to plastic, sediment, hydrocarbons and heavy metals, which make it easy to customize per location and season.
Costing anywhere, depending on size, from $500-900 per unit with a 25-year lifespan, the Gutter Bin is a popular choice for eco-conscious cities like Sheridan and Denver, who have already installed dozens. Deurloo has also created accompanying GIS software that allows municipalities to easily measure and geocode debris to help them figure out where pollutants are coming from.
The “I wish I’d thought of that” refrain is something he hears often of his simple-concept product.
“I was blessed to have a good idea,” Deurloo said. “And we keep simplifying it to make it better and cheaper.”
The first Gutter Bin was installed in Sheridan in 2016 to protect the Goose Creek watershed. Since then, local companies and sponsors have purchased about a dozen others for use in Sheridan. Other Wyoming cities have installed them, too, as well as other states including California and Colorado, with Denver being one of Gutter Bins’ biggest customers. In the Mile High City, according to Deurloo, a dozen or so Gutter Bins have reportedly removed close to 2,500 pounds of pollution that would have eventually drained into the South Platte River, before flowing into the Gulf of Mexico.
“We need to start cleaning up our water on our streets”
The startup plans to grow its market in the West before expanding into other regions and eventually marketing globally. The company has designed the unit with room to display a sponsoring company’s name on the face plate as a means of allowing groups to take ownership over their efforts to clean up the streets and city.
“The focus is on flowing water in confined spaces,” he said. “We’re looking for opportunities to help clean up the water.”
There are approximately 40 million catch basins in the United States and the vast majority are unprotected, Deurloo noted, which puts the approximate pollution capture potential for the U.S. at 41 million tons per year.
“We need to start cleaning up our water on our streets,” he said. “If we can clean up the water, the air will follow.”
By: Jen C. Kocher