The Cool Way to Recycle

Two Montecito Friends Introduce the ecopod

Between 1992 and 2006, the overall beverage container recycling rate dropped from 53% to 33%, according to the Container Recycling Institute, a nonprofit organization that promotes policies and programs that increase recovery and recycling of beverage containers. The institute’s website states various reasons for this change: growth in sales of beverages not covered by existing deposit laws, increase in away-from-home consumption and the declining value of cans and bottles in non-bottle bill states. Some people say recycling just takes too long and requires too much effort.

“My recycling habits could be better if I had a better setup at home,” says Christine Hale, a Montecito mother of three children. “Right now I have a place for recyclables in the house, but sometimes I end up shoving bottles under the sink because it gets too full. It would be nice to have a better system.”

Enter the ecopod, a metal, trash-can like device designed to make recycling easier and more practical, and at the same time, more fashionable. The appliance recycles approximately 50-60 crushed containers and has an upper recycling station with storage capacity for bottles, newspapers, plastic bags and other recyclables. The pamphlet for ecopod boasts, “This appliance can help save one hundred thirty billion beverage containers worth over one billion dollars in value from U.S. landfills.”

The ecopod is the product of two Montecito residents, Troy Hoidal and Gary Dorfman, college buddies who turned an inside joke into an outsized invention.

“It’s been an amazing journey,” says Dorfman.

How it Happened

The “journey” began when Dorfman and Hoidal met at UCSB as fraternity brothers majoring in business. It was at UCSB that they took the “History of Popular Culture” class with Professor Rod Nash, the former chairman of the environmental studies program at UCSB.

“It was a great class that explored how trends originated,” Dorfman recalls. “The students would walk in and Professor Nash would have the Beatles blaring and show how this British band made such a huge impact on the trends in the United States. Professor Nash sparked our interest in developing an idea that tied into culture plus made a difference.”

After graduating from college, Dorfman and Hoidal both moved away from Santa Barbara and started careers. Dorfman went into investment banking and Hoidal went into sales. Although they didn’t live near each other, they stayed in touch.

The formative stages of ecopod began when Hoidal moved back to Santa Barbara and in the fall of 2004 sent his college friend a funny picture of him dealing with his recyclables.

“The picture showed Troy, early in the morning in his bathrobe with his hair sticking up, riding to his curb in a golf cart so overloaded with recyclables they were falling off,” Dorfman recalls.

The photo sparked an idea the two men began to explore: making a product that enabled recycling to be simple and rewarding.

“Everyone has a recycle story,” Dorfman explains. “It was apparent that managing recyclables was not easy for most people and we wanted to change that.”

Dorfman moved back to Santa Barbara and the two began their adventure in a business that was both new to them – inventing a product. Their first stop was DesignworksUSA, a consulting company that had won numerous design awards. Design of the ecopod began in mid-2005.

Hoidal and Dorfman soon found, to their surprise, that their concept for a device that compacted both aluminum and plastic was something that had never been patented.

“There were one hundred eighty-four patents for compacting aluminum and two patents for compacting plastic, but none for compacting aluminum and plastic,” Dorfman explains. Their patent for this process is pending.

Even after the design, the two inventors were still hesitant on their creation. That was until a representative of the TV series, “The Apprentice,” asked to put the ecopod on the show. The invention never appeared on television, but Hoidal and Dorman were convinced their product was seen as exciting and innovative. The next step was getting the ecopod manufactured.

Where to Now?

The ecopod is currently under exclusive contract with Williams Sonoma and is featured in the winter catalog and on the company’s website, www.williamssonoma.com. The contract with Williams Sonoma expires in April, when Hoidal and Dorfman plan to branch out into more markets in corporate America and beyond.

“After articles about the ecopod were printed in fifty different websites and magazines, we had two hundred fifty e-mails from around the world inquiring about international production,” says Dorfman. “We hope to start going international by the end of the first quarter in 2007.”

Locally, the ecopod has met some favorable reviews from Montecito’s youngest residents. Zoe Padilla, whose mom, Jill, owns an ecopod, describes the recycling tool as “cool” and that the best part is “crushing the cans with the pedal.”

As to the future of the ecopod, Gary says it is a dream come true. “If we change the world and make it a little greener,” he says, “we’ll be successful.”

ecopod currently retails for $328 and comes in white and black. For more info visit www.ecopod.org.