Simplicity, effectiveness, and versatility are often the hallmarks of innovative technologies and people. Greg Yeoman, Mike Hannah, and their Enviropod company embody those traits. Starting out with the goal of reducing plastic contamination in waterways, they discovered that they could bring their innovative filter technology directly to plastic manufacturers to stop contamination before it began. Since its founding in 1996, Enviropod has become a global force in the effort to clean up beaches, plastic manufacturing sites, and storm water systems. In this interview, Mr. Yeoman tells Municipal Water Leader how the company came to be, the advantage of its products for combating plastic contamination, and how it has expanded from New Zealand to North America.
Municipal Water Leader: Please tell us about your background.
Greg Yeoman: I studied architecture at university. After university, in 1996, an engineer friend of mine, Mike Hannah, was working in the storm water industry, and we found out about the problem of pollutants coming off main base sources and getting into waterways. We’re passionate about the environment, and we figured that there must be a simple way of intervening to stop pollutants from getting into the waterways.
In 1996, we came up with a catch basin insert technology called the Enviropod, and we founded our company in Auckland, New Zealand, that same year. The Enviropod was a cage with a 200‑micron filter bag developed to target sediment and other pollutants in storm water runoff. Eighty percent of the pollution that gets into waterways is from land-based activities, so it made sense to start closest to the source of the pollutants. We developed a business around the Enviropod product and took it to Australia around 1998, where we started getting some good opportunities with some of the councils. We ended up licensing a range of technologies in New Zealand and Australia for complex storm water problems, which included the presence of heavy metals and organics in storm water.
About 5 years ago, we redeveloped the Enviropod filter, because we had noticed that the problem of plastic litter and trash in waterways had been overlooked in a lot of regulations. Once those plastics are in the waterways, they’re hard to get out. We redeveloped the original catch basin insert product into a version called the LittaTrap, which focuses on pollutants that are 5 or more millimeters (mm) in size. The aim was to develop the product so that it required less maintenance, was easier to install in different places around the world, and could be flat packed for cheaper freight and storage. With this updated technology, there is no reason not to use catch basin inserts.
We started redeveloping the product 3 years ago and moved to Canada for a year to get some product installed, to work with partners there, and to focus on nonregulated sites around the Great Lakes. We found the process to be a bit slower than expected, because without regulation, there is little motivation to install technology like ours. Then, we realized that California is the one place in the world that has a full trash-capture regulation, meaning that every commercial site, public or private, has to prevent anything bigger than 5 mm leaving the premises. We got our product approved by the California Water Board and are now actively preventing trash from getting into waterways. The Great Lakes and California are our initial focuses for the product, but it’s applicable everywhere.
Municipal Water Leader: How long have you been marketing your products in the United States?
Greg Yeoman: Officially, since the end of last year, when we got our California Water Board approval. We’re working with some partners in California to get the product specified and installed in both regulated and nonregulated sites. We also have a strong focus on manufacturers, which started in New Zealand and Canada, where we worked with plastics manufacturing associations. Plastic manufacturing sites use resin pellets called nurdles. They are often shipped from the manufacturer on trains, loaded into trucks, and then loaded again at the manufacturing site, so there’s a lot of places where they can escape. Once the nurdles get into waterways, they look like fish food. On almost any beach, if you dig around the high-tide level, you’ll start to find these little plastic pellets. It’s a huge global issue. There is a global movement called Operation Clean Sweep that aims to prevent all resin pellet loss from plastic manufacturing sites. We have different performance liners that we can put into the LittaTrap basket to target specific pollutants, including one that targets resin pellets, which are about 3 mm in size. It is highly effective, with a 100 percent capture capability. It is an easy, cost-effective retrofit solution for manufacturing sites and for the whole supply chain of these resin pellets.
Municipal Water Leader: What size catch basins can the LittaTrap work in?
Greg Yeoman: Catch basin sizes vary across the world, depending on rainfall and flow conditions. For example, there are areas in New Zealand with quite low flows, while in Queensland, Australia, there are large, tropical flows. Based on our work in New Zealand, Australia, Canada, and the United States, we’ve come up with five sizes that will fit catch basins from 12 inches by 12 inches to 48 inches by 48 inches and sizes in between. There are also curb-inlet models. In California, for example, there are curb-inlet basins in the form of slots at the side of the roadway that are 16 feet long or longer with no grate as such. We can adapt to configurations like these by installing standard models next to each other with seal kits.
Municipal Water Leader: What is the advantage of capturing pollutants at the catch basin rather than trapping them with a large net or screen later in the storm water collection system?
Greg Yeoman: The flows and volume of these pollutants are high, and we can achieve a much bigger filtering area and storage volume by putting our devices closer to pollutant sources and in multiple catch basins. That way, we can take out and store more pollutants. If a net or screen is put at the end of the catchment, it can be limited in the size and may only be able to capture a limited volume of pollutants. Devices like that are also difficult to maintain—you need large cranes to remove and empty them. Further, they do not solve the issue of pipe blockages upstream. By contrast, our devices can target hotspots and capture pollutants near the point source. That also means that the pollutants don’t get a chance to break down as much on their journey from the source to the capture device.
Another benefit of our product is that it can be easily maintained. The basket can be lifted out and emptied into a bin, which means that private sites can easily look after their own infrastructure. For example, a plastics manufacturer that is catching small resin pellets with LittaTraps can have its operational people easily maintain these themselves.
We’ve also carried out a lot of research on litter hotspot mapping. You might have 80 percent of your litter pollutants coming from 20 percent of the catchment, and by targeting those areas, you avoid the need to fit LittaTraps out in all your infrastructure. We identify the hotspots and then, based on our knowledge and our database of these land uses, we recommend the best locations to place LittaTraps to get the best performance for the least cost.
Municipal Water Leader: Is the LittaTrap available throughout the United States?
Greg Yeoman: Yes, it is available in all 50 states. We have logistics centers in Ontario, Canada, and in California. While catch basin infrastructure varies by area, our product typically fits 90 percent of catch basins, and if it doesn’t, we’re definitely interested in making it fit.
Greg Yeoman is the president of Enviropod. He can be reached at (+64) 21 525398 or locally via Will Harris at Clean Waters USA at (877) 651‑0566.