Trendsetters: Water Warriors

Gary Hopkins and his business partner Mark Kirves are fighting the good fight when it comes to cleaning up rivers, creeks and streams. Plastic welders, fabricators and co-founders of a Cleveland, Ga., company called Plastek Werks, they build tanks, tank linings and pipe systems for a number of applications, including to keep harsh chemicals out of waterways.

But, when a customer contacted them about 10 years ago for help removing trash from Tanyard Creek near Piedmont Hospital in Atlanta, they became obsessed with finding a solution. Their quest led them to a partnership with an Australian company, Bandalong International, and into making products that make our waters cleaner.

“Right before the recession, we decided to do something crazy and start a new company,” says Hopkins. He and Kirves launched Storm Water Systems, also Cleveland-based, and today have three primary products that keep litter and debris from traveling downstream.

Their Bandalong Litter Trap floats on top of the water and captures trash that flows into it on the current. The trap operates continuously year-round without any mechanical assistance, capturing litter that can then be collected by humans.

The Bandalong Boom Systems operate in a similar manner, but their floating sections can be coupled together to stretch across larger bodies of water. StormX, what Hopkins calls an “end of pipe device,” captures litter and debris in stormwater runoff and prevents gross pollutants from entering a river, stream or lake by catching the pollutants in reusable nets.

Storm Water Systems devices are now in use at 16 locations throughout the country, including Gainesville’s Flat Creek, which was on the Georgia Water Coalition’s Dirty Dozen list of threatened waters before the Bandalong Litter Trap was installed.

While Gainesville has not recorded the amount of litter collected from Flat Creek, the waterway is no longer on the Dirty Dozen list. Hopkins says a trap installation in Mobile, Ala., collects enough litter to fill 30 dump trucks each year.

“We also use the Bandalong Traps for education,” he says. “We put signs on them to build public awareness of where the stuff ends up. The biggest thing we can do is educate people. Our goal is to get people to put their darn trash where it’s supposed to go.”

Storm Water Systems has been recognized with several environmental stewardship awards, including being selected as a Solutions Awards finalist by the Savannah Ocean Exchange for helping reduce the impact of litter in the world’s oceans. This year, the Georgia Water Coalition named the company one of its Clean 13 for efforts to clean up the state’s waterways.

For Hopkins, however, the biggest honor is in making a difference. “Our oceans and waterways are filling up with waste – almost to epidemic proportions. Each job is a victory for us,” he says. “Best of all is the phone call we get from someone downstream saying, ‘hey, this thing really works good.’” – Mary Ann DeMuth

Categories: Trendsetters