For many people, making the “green” transition is not just a trend. It is also a way of life. From recycling to composting, it is a process that requires time, but the feeling of doing the right thing is its own reward.
If you compost or you’re looking for an excuse to start, CompoKeeper has the perfect solution. Their innovative compost bin uses a unique clamshell-style device that will open wide when you need to toss something in, and stay tightly closed to keep the smell in. Once the bin is full, the bag can be tied shut and pulled out.
I recently spoke with Van Hess, the inventor of the CompoKeeper, about his unique invention and the inspiration behind it.
Tell us a little about the CompoKeeper
The CompoKeeper is a kitchen appliance designed for storing food waste indoors (though also useful for storing dirty diapers, pet and medical waste, and most other types of objectionable material in close quarters). When paired with a biodegradable bag, the CompoKeeper makes composting food scraps as easy as taking out the regular trash.
How does it work?
It’s like having a huge zip-lock bag inside a waste bin, which can be opened and closed hands-free (using the foot pedal or turning the hand lever). When opened, the mechanics spread the liner wide open making it easy to toss in waste. To close, step on the pedal or turn the lever and the clamshell seals the bag shut. When the bag is full, tie it off and pull it out with the easy-grab interior tray. The CompoKeeper can be stored on the floor, countertop or in a cabinet (mounted to the door or on a slide-out shelf.) They’re easy to use and actually kind-of fun.
What inspired it?
Well, I always thought throwing food away was wasteful, not what nature intended, but the idea didn’t occur to me until 2008. When Boulder introduced its curbside composting program I thought it was a good idea but had a hard time finding the motivation to deal with the stinky mess. This got me thinking. I dreamt of creating something that would eliminate the odor and keep flies away while also relieve me of having to clean and deodorize the bin and trudge threw the snow to empty it every other day. Then… a light came on. I remembered the time I found a tuna sandwich that had been lost in my car for over a month and amazingly, because of the zip-lock bag, I couldn’t smell a thing. Thus, the sealed bag concept.
What size garbage cans does your product work the best with?
CompoKeepers are self-contained units that include a waste container, sealing mechanism, hands free controls, and pull out tray. They are currently available in 2 sizes, a 28qt. bin for floor, cabinet or slide out trash drawer storage, and a 14qt. container that can be attached to the inside of a cabinet door or left free standing on a counter. Both sizes are designed to fit a tall kitchen biodegradable bag.
How long did it take you to bring the CompoKeeper from idea to final product? What was that process like?
After the birth of the CompoKeeper concept, we did a great deal of research. First, we did an extensive patent search to see if someone else had already created something similar. Next, we researched competitive products to get an idea of existing prices, competitive advantages, ease of use and so on. We also looked at consumer trends, demographics, and municipalities that offered, or planned on implementing, curbside compost services. We read blogs and articles to see what products or methods people were using to store food scraps and we even contacted our waste provider to make sure compostable bags weren’t a problem. Once we were sure the CompoKeeper was feasible to make and distribute and that the future looked bright we made our first prototype. I tested the first model in my own kitchen, made a few changes then made several more which led us into conducting field-tests. Consumer feedback resulted in additional modifications and improvements. This process was repeated over and over again until we were convinced we had a reliable, user-friendly product. During this phase we were also working on submitting the idea to WIN evaluation service, registering a patent, and having it tested and evaluated by local distributors, E-merchants, and compost facilities. With thumbs ups all around we sat down to draft a business plan, create our website and get our name out to the public. Overall, this process took about 3 years and we’re still not totally where we’d like to be. Now we’re working towards commercial production and national distribution.
Are there any goals that you would like to accomplish over the next year or so?
We are currently seeking an investment or manufacturing partner to help with its aesthetic appeal. A prettier version with a lid could turn it into a household item. Ideally, within the year, we’ll have a manufacturing plant up and running and be stepping into the introductory stage of our product’s life cycle.
What are some lessons that your business has taught you?
Persistence, there’s an answer for everything.
Is there anything else you’d like to add?
I’m excited about the prospect of the CompoKeeper serving as a useful tool for multiple markets. There are so many different variables and combinations we can work with.
Do you have any advice that you’d like to offer fellow entrepreneur/inventors that are just getting started?
Expect to have days you question your wisdom.