Enviro-Log – Cleaner Burning with Recycled Waxed Cardboard Logs
Have you ever wondered what happens to the waxed cardboard boxes that vegetables are transported in? Most of the time, they’re dumped in landfills. But that’s changing, as they are now being reclaimed and turned into Enviro-Logs, clean-burning logs for your fireplace, campfire, or woodstove. Today, Blue Planet Green Living (BPGL) spoke with Ross McRoy, the founder of Enviro-Log, to find out his take on why Enviro-Log is a better choice as an alternative to wood. It’s too hot in Iowa to light a fire this month, so we aren’t able to review Enviro-Log for its quality of fire or length of burn — we’ll get to that in a month or two, when the nights cool down. — Julia Wasson, Publisher
BPGL: Has this technology been around a long time?
McROY: About 10 years. The developers just couldn’t commercialize it. It’s a great idea. But there was no sense of market presence and how it fit into the marketplace and how to navigate the waxed box and sell fire logs in parallel, because they’re two separate business events. That makes it a challenge.
BPGL: Where do you get the cardboard?
McROY: If you go to a restaurant or grocery store, and you purchase a salad or a bag of lettuce, that lettuce was more than likely shipped in a waxed container. That waxed container is used to move all perishables around the US.
Plastic is also an alternative, but it’s an expensive, petroleum-based alternative. And it requires shipping in both directions. So, it’s not preferred.
Wax is a preferred container because it is pliable. Two heads of lettuce are not necessarily the same size. Plastic is very rigid, but wax will give. So, when workers are packing them in the field, they prefer wax because of that feature. They can put 10 head of lettuce in every box and guarantee it, whereas plastic sometimes doesn’t necessarily work out that way.
In general, the waxed cardboard moves from the farm, where it is water cooled — hydrocooled — which is what they do to all ground vegetables to improve the shelf life. By cooling it down with chilled water, the vegetable stays on the shelf or into the distribution system and doesn’t spoil as fast. So they prefer to do that. Then they’ll take it into the grocery stores and unpack it, put it on display, then take away the waxed box, fold it up, and throw it in the trash.
BPGL: So, typically, it just goes into the landfill?
McROY: Yes. They only use it one time, because of food contamination.
BPGL: How much of the waxed cardboard market are you diverting from solid waste?
McROY: We probably are doing between 20 and 30 million pounds annually, and we’re looking to get to 40 or 50 million here in the next 12 months or so. So, we’re pushing very hard.
We’re looking for other applications for waxed cardboard. We have a tremendous amount of opportunity handed to us. We’re not able to take all the opportunities. But we’re looking for partners that have energy plants so we can make them fuel that would be more efficient than wood burning. We’re doing some different things to continue to work with our partners to preserve as much as waxed cardboard as possible.
BPGL: Do you get criticism for burning the waxed cardboard? Or are environmentalists, in general, happy that you’re recovering energy from this waste product?
McROY: Here’s what we’ve done, because we did get posed that question, Is burning better than landfilling or composting? We actually did a greenhouse gas study. We found that, if a company were to divert our waxed box — let’s pick a grocery chain or a produce company that had two choices: they either throw it in the landfill or send it to Enviro-Log.
The perception, based off your question is, burning might be worse. But actually, it is 50% better in greenhouse gas emissions to let us burn it and return it as fuel. And that’s not even counting the fuel benefit to a home. That’s just strictly emissions from the burn event, versus landfill. That same box would generate 50% more greenhouse gases than it would if you let us burn it.
BPGL: How does that work?
McROY: You’re breaking down an organic component, so when it breaks down, one of the components of landfill emissions is methane. When methane is converted in the fireplace, it’s consumed, so you end up with a higher efficiency. There’s carbon and other components used in the calculation, but it’s a significant positive impact for us.
So, a grocery store or restaurant has a choice. They can stick it in the landfill. But, actually, an environmentalist would want it to come to our facility to convert it and send back to a home to heat the home.
Now there’s another benefit that we didn’t talk about. For every log you burn — say our log has got 50,000 BTUs, that’s 50,000 BTUs of natural gas or fuel oil or electricity they didn’t have to use. And in doing it, they reduced the greenhouse gas footprint of their fireplace, because it’s less than wood in general. And there’s the landfill effect — how much waxed cardboard they keep out of the landfill and help the environment in that way. Which is huge. It’s a huge carbon-positive program.
BPGL: Your advertising says that an Enviro-Log burns for up to three hours for a five-pound log. But someone on the web commented that the burn time was more like an hour.
McROY: That is probably not accurate. There are several factors that affect all fire logs, not just ours. One is if you burn it in a hot fireplace, under hot conditions. You can lose 20-30 minutes if you’re burning in a fireplace that’s already very hot, simply because it’s more efficient to combust.
There are a lot of variables. Testing shows our burn time to be anywhere between 2 hours 30 minutes to 3 hours 15 minutes. It varies on how cold the air is, how cold the fireplace is, how did it get started… all these variables.
So you have to go into a burn standard: flame in when you light it to flame out. Because it is a recycled material, it does have a little variance. But normally it lands around a 2½- to 3-hour range very, very consistently. And, occasionally, depending on how it got started, it might go into 3½ hours.
BPGL: What’s the best way to start it if you want to prolong the burn?
McROY: Currently, our fire log is a lot like wood. We light it. We take it out of the wrapper and use the wrapper as the kindling. It lights extremely fast; it’s probably the fastest-lighting fire log on the market in that regard. We like to train people to use two. That differentiates us. They can add one fire log as they need it. With the Enviro-Log, you can build a fire to the size you want.
BPGL: Why would you train people to use two Enviro-Logs?
McROY: Our packaging says to use two to start a fire, and crisscross them like pieces of wood. You can do it like a traditional fire log, and just burn one at a time. But we are unique in that we want customers to recognize that they can tend our fire just like they can wood. They can build a fire, and if they’ve got guests over, and the fire is dying down, with a traditional fire log, you don’t add anything to it, because it’s inherently not what they consider a safe practice.
But with us, you can add another log. Two hours into the burn, if you’ve got guests over and the evening is going well, you can extend it by adding an Enviro-Log and build a fire as much as you want. It’s the same thing with outdoors, and that’s an advantage. We want customers to recognize that we are like an ultimate substitute — and cleaner.
BPGL: What do you mean, “cleaner”?
McROY: Counties that have what they consider wood-induced smog are putting a lot of regulations into place about burning wood. With our fire log, we are much cleaner. They wouldn’t have an issue if everybody burned Enviro-Logs. They wouldn’t have any smog associated with wood-burning during the winter.
We’re even cleaner when you burn two than when you burn one, but I don’t want to complicate it. We have 30% less emissions. We’ve got 80% less carbon monoxide. We produce 50% more energy than wood at the time of the burn. We’ll burn a little bit longer than a bundle of wood. And, our logs produce 86% less creosote. That would be the three big attributes that separate us from wood.
BPGL: Creosote is a huge problem that can cause chimney fires. Do you not have to add a creosote treatment to a wood burner to keep the chimney from clogging? Or would you still recommend that?
McROY: You would still maintain your fire maintenance on your home. Our feedback is the chimney flue is very clean, so you don’t have to clean it as often. But you still need it inspected, and it’s good practice. The idea is, the creosote buildup is not there.
BPGL: You were saying that burning two Enviro-Logs causes less emissions than burning a single Enviro-Log. What do you mean by that?
McROY: When you burn two, you have a better entrainment of the air. You have better mixing, because your fire is a little more aggressive. As a result, you get better combustion. And the combustion yields better emissions. When you slowly combust, the traditional fire logs will give off smoke — they’ll go in and out of heavy smoke. And that’s just because there’s not a good entrainment.
But burning two stacked logs creates a teepee effect, and that’s the entrainment action. The air’s coming in underneath it, and it just becomes very efficient to burn that way.
When a fire is about to go out, it starts smoking. But when it becomes very efficient, all that smoke goes away. That smoke is uncombusted fuel. It’s not hot enough to burn. When you add a little bit more fuel to the fire, the fire gets hot enough to burn all the fuel. It’s very efficient.
It’s similar to wood. When you build a wood fire, you build a little teepee and you make it big. And while it’s burning real well, it has no smoke, and it’s a pleasant fire. As it begins to die out, it becomes a lot more fuel but not enough mixing to create 100% combustion. That is inherent with anything that burns.
That’s what we’ve found out from some of our testing. We don’t promote the use of two logs, simply because we have to compete one log to one log. But it’s nice to know that when you do burn two, you’re actually getting a cleaner burn than burning one.
BPGL: When you light Enviro-Log directly with a match, does it flame up around the log really fast?
McROY: It’s like lighting kindling or paper. It’s not a very aggressive lighting in that regard. It has no added flammable to it. So it’s just pure waxed cardboard.
BPGL: Do you have some estimate of how many BTUs folks produce in a year using Enviro-Logs.
McROY: It varies widely. I don’t have anything specific. The federal government keeps the winter fuel oil forecast statistics average, and you could extrapolate what it is. A normal house in the Midwest may burn up to two cords of wood, depending on how they use it. There’s such a variance. Some people use it as supplemental heat; some people may use it more as a primary heat. Some people might go back to their fuel oil for a couple weeks. I would think two cords of wood would be a winter event for somebody. We have people who will purchase several pallets of the material. We have others that just buy two fire logs, and they’re content.
BPGL: Who does your testing?
McROY: All our testing is done by Omni Environmental Services. They’re the leader in fire log and fire products, like fireplaces and pellet stoves, and things of those nature. They do UL and EPA testing. They’re retained by the other major competitors in the fire log industry, too. So they have a head-to-head benching capability. But Enviro-Log is the only wax box firelog that maintains an on-going test program with Omni.
BPGL: Do you add anything to your fire logs?
McROY: It’s just waxed cardboard.
BPGL: Do you sell retail on your site?
MCROY: We normally try to move customers to the retailer. But we do make it available as a convenience island, which is delivered by UPS to your door. That’s a cost, if you choose to go that route. But we do not sell what we could sell on our internet site, because it’s not healthy to do that with retailers out there selling the same product in different markets. Our retailers are our first priority.
BPGL: What else should consumers know about your product?
McROY: The big thing is that we’re growing. Awareness is key. People understand how we fit in the marketplace, and the versatility of our product is the key. We’re the only fire log sold nationally that can be used in a wood stove. And we can be used for camping. We have a tremendous amount of flexibility. It’s really a year-round product for the upper United States. We also sell into Canada.
State parks could use us for bug control. The ashes can be used as soil amendments. There’s nothing left over, and the ash can be absorbed by the campground. With other products, they’re not necessarily good for ash back into the soil.
BPGL: Why is Enviro-Log better than other fire logs for bug control?
McROY: In state parks, they frown against bringing in outside wood in — period —because of transmission of beetles and other bugs. Let’s say you pick up something in the northwest and you travel over to Florida, and you drop a bug on Florida’s coast that doesn’t go well with the forest, it will cause infestations. A lot of state parks — California and Georgia, for example — are big on not allowing outside wood to be brought into their state parks. You can buy it locally, but they discourage any transfer of wood from one region to another. I know Canada does the same thing because of the transmission of infested wood. They have a Japanese beetle in Canada, and if you bring your wood down to Florida, Florida could have it.
Our product is a versatile product. It’s a wood substitute. You can take it with you camping, and it has no shelf life. You can leave it in the camper, and then you don’t necessarily have to buy wood when you get to the campsite. If you have wood, but it’s raining, or you couldn’t get wood because you got to the campground late, our product would still light up and go.
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