I follow Mayor Sam Adams on Twitter, which is a nearly impossible task since he tweets at a rate that would cause the thumbs of normal people to seize up and fall off. Regardless, during a recent Sunday Parkways, His Honor tweeted a photo of a uniquely Portland household invention that is being made right here in town: the Kitchen Compost Caddy.
Why uniquely Portland? Because in late 2011, Portland initiated a residential composting program that distributed household composting buckets to all Portland households. It was the arrival of a composting bucket that inspired Jeff Evans, to create the Kitchen Compost Caddy.
NN: What’s the story behind the creation of the Kitchen Compost Caddy?
JE: When our little brown composting bucket arrived on the doorstep, my first thoughts were: “I don’t want this sitting on my kitchen countertop. My space is limited and this bucket is just not attractive.”
Once we began to use the bucket, we became frustrated with the height of the bucket on the countertop when scraping our food scraps into it; the repetitive opening and closing of the lid; the associated banging noise made each time we had to dispose of our food scraps; and the foul smells coming from the bucket as the food scraps sat decomposing at room temperature.
Along with a way to mount the bucket under the counter and out of sight, I thought there should be a way to lift the lid and latch it in the open position. This way a person could scrape food scraps into the bucket from a convenient height, peel vegetables directly into it, and easily toss food debris into the bucket while preparing a meal, all with the lid latched open. Then with a flip of the latch by your finger, gravity would drop the door closed and you could shut the cabinet door.
I also decided the Kitchen Compost Caddy should offer an optional basket located beneath the bucket, for storage of compostable bags. My final thought was our product had to do something about the foul odor coming from the bucket, which would get even worse in the hot summer months. We cured that problem by offering a replaceable activated carbon filter mounted to the underside of the lid to neutralize the odor.
NN: How did you move from inspiration to consumer product?
JE: I began to make hand drawings of my ideas along with building a prototype that was made from wood. Once that was done, and I was certain my working prototype functioned as I had dreamed up, I found a draftsman to make a full set of manufacturing drawings to make a prototype from metal.
Initially, I decided to manufacture the Kitchen Compost Caddy from round wire, similar to how shower caddies are manufactured. I found a local company to build and weld the round wire sections. The basket, bottom support and the latch were made from wire, and the upper support was manufactured from sheet metal. I ordered prototypes of both the basket and non-basket models. They turned out beautiful, but the manufacturing costs were prohibitive for what I knew I needed to sell them for.
I was at an impasse. I was depressed and felt, although I had a great idea, it could not be manufactured without outsourcing. That was one condition early on I promised myself I would not bend on. I wanted to make sure I supported the local economy here in Oregon by employing local manufacturers.
Then it came to me: Could the whole product be made from sheet metal? Stamped out and bent into the proper configuration? I began to visit different sheet metal shops in the Portland area. I found a fantastic sheet metal vendor (Eagle Precision) who was not only able to make it for much less, but also came up with some fantastic ideas to improve on the product.
Next, I ordered prototypes, which turned out perfect, and I applied for and received an approval from the United States Patent Office for a provisional patent. Following that, we began production.
NN: Did you have any experience that prepared you for creating a product like the Kitchen Compost Caddy?
JE: Our first family business was Portland Valve and Fitting Company, which we owned for over 30 years. I was a technical sales specialist for that company for 15 years, mostly serving Intel’s semiconductor plants in Aloha and Hillsboro. We sold that company around 2000.
Then we opened our next company, Evans Components Inc., around 2001. This company was a sales and manufacturing company. We developed a great number of products serving the semiconductor industry.
We financed this latest business from savings and monthly income from our existing jobs. I didn’t seek out any professional advice. I just utilized all I had learned about product development and sales and marketing from my time at Portland Valve and Fitting and at Evans Components Inc.
NN: How are you managing sales of your product now? Do you see a future for food composting and your product beyond Portland?
JE: Currently, there are many cities across the U.S. that are now curbside composting, and even more have begun pilot programs in curbside composting similar to the program Portland began prior to full implementation. We are already receiving orders from all over the U.S. and Canada.
We plan to market directly to the end user via local advertising, direct mail programs, street fairs, word of mouth and so on. We are focusing first on the Oregon market: Portland, Salem and Corvallis. Then we will move onto the many cities in California and Washington that are also curbside composting.
How do you manage your trash since the change imposed last year? Are you ready for a Kitchen Compost Caddy? Get one here.