Wednesday, June 19, 2019

City tries "gutter bins" to keep cigarette butts out of creek

Posted By on Wed, Jun 19, 2019 at 3:38 PM

click to enlarge "Gutter bins" are shaped like giant socks. - COURTESY CITY OF COLORADO SPRINGS
  • Courtesy City of Colorado Springs
  • "Gutter bins" are shaped like giant socks.
To keep pollution out of waterways, city staff are thinking outside the box — and have their minds in the gutter.

In May, the city installed "gutter bins" in three downtown locations. The sock-like devices catch cigarette butts, pieces of Styrofoam coffee cups or whatever else people happen to discard that would otherwise flow down the gutter and, eventually, into the creek.

"The other day we pulled about 15 pounds out of one of them," says city stormwater specialist Jerry Cordova. "...We actually found a brand-new softball."

Cordova's team plans to try out the three bins for a while and possibly add them later in other parts of the city. The devices, manufactured by environmental technology company Frog Creek Partners, come with a price tag, but the bin lids are customizable — so companies who want to "sponsor" a gutter bin could have their names etched on the top, Cordova adds.

"This is one opportunity to [improve the water quality] without making a huge investment up front: Try it, see how it works and we can always scale this larger," he says.

Cordova also runs the Adopt-A-Waterway Program, which allows businesses and organizations to "adopt" a stretch of creek by keeping it clean in exchange for getting their name on a sign. And the city's Creek Week event draws hundreds of volunteers to clean up trash along Fountain Creek each fall.

While volunteers in those two programs can see the immediate difference that picking up trash for a day or two makes, Cordova points out that small pieces of litter accumulated over time can also harm the creek ecosystem.

click to enlarge The "gutter bin" lids are customizable. - COURTESY CITY OF COLORADO SPRINGS
  • Courtesy City of Colorado Springs
  • The "gutter bin" lids are customizable.
When someone walking downtown sees a cigarette butt discarded on the sidewalk, they may think, "Oh it's just a cigarette butt," Cordova says.

"But think about all the health warnings that you see about cigarettes and the dangers of smoking. ... Well, all those toxins get stuck in that little filter, that cigarette butt — so when that gets into our water, it's been leaching those chemicals into the water."

What's more, he says, fish will often eat cigarette butts floating on the water, and water fowl nibble them up while pecking at the ground for food.

"It seems like something small, but little things can make big differences, positive or negative, and so that's why we wanted these filters to capture those little pieces that many people overlook," Cordova says.

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