ECO Foam aims to help companies recycle their unwanted packaging foam

  • Written by Deborah Stone
EcoFoam sign
Courtesy photo
Plastic foam is ubiquitous in our society.

Unfortunately, most of it eventually makes its way to landfills, where it sits for hundreds of years. Left untouched, the foam, which is not biodegradable, kills animals that end up eating it, as well as dirties our landscape.

ECO Foam Recyclers wants to do its part to help the environment by educating people about the need to recycle this waste, allowing the product to be used once again.

The newly formed company works with businesses around the region to help better service their recycling needs with regards to expanded polystyrene (commonly known as Styrofoam), expanded polyethylene (flexible foam that often comes in sheets) and expanded polypropylene (often comes in the form of thin foam wrapped around large appliances.

The company, which is owned by Joe Baba and Kari McKibben, recently opened its doors in a 2,500- square-foot warehouse in Woodinville; a space that also occupies the couple’s other business venture, Bigfoot Tobacco and Supplies.

Declining sales for Bigfoot motivated the couple to look for a new endeavor.

“One of our employees at Bigfoot, Eric Ulfwengren, who is also an independent consultant, came to us with the foam recycling idea,” says Joshua Baba, marketing director for ECO Foam Recyclers. “The idea appealed to us because of the fact that it’s environmentally conscious and saves businesses money.”

Baba explains that as long as the foam is clean and dry, the company will take it without charge if it’s dropped off at its warehouse location; otherwise, it will be happy to pick up the product from its source, for a fee.

Once received, the company puts the foam through a densifying process of grinding and melting before it extrudes out of the machine in a molten state.

Then it is formed into a mold weighing 25 pounds per block and sold back into the plastic industry, which uses it in all kinds of different plastic components or even has it re-blown back into foam.

“Recycling this product instead of disposing of it in the environment makes perfect sense,” comments Baba. “The goal is to try and take all of it out of the waste stream and put it back to use. Letting our environment fill up with unwanted foam is both a misuse of our beautiful landscape and a waste of the land we have.”

The company, which is the only polyethylene recycler in the area (there are others that recycle polystyrene), is reaching out to as many small and midsize companies as possible to make them aware of its services.

Some, according to Baba, are very receptive, as they want to be green and realize they can save money.

Others, he notes, are not motivated to recycle.

“Our biggest challenge is trying to connect with large corporations like Boeing, Microsoft and Nintendo,” he says. “These companies use a lot of these products, but there’s so much red tape you have to get through to work with them.”

Baba is excited about the business, but realizes that it is a start-up and it will take time to build momentum.

He adds, “Each week, things gets better, and each client we find becomes a repeat customer, which is our objective.

“Right now, we’re working with companies in Woodinville, Redmond, Bothell, Lynwood, Seattle, Bellevue, Mukilteo and other surrounding areas, with the plan to expand further in the future.”

Scouting for gold in the cold

  • Written by Paul George
Klondike Derby
All Fired Up – younger Scouts take on Speed Fire Building – a challenge to see whose skillfully built fire can burn through twine strung above the flames the fastest.
Gold fever set in recently for over 150 cold-blooded local Boy Scouts at their annual wintertime outdoor adventure, the Klondike Derby.

The event, held at Ensign Ranch on the outskirts of Cle Elem, attracted winter hearty Scout troops from all over Scouting’s local Northlakes district that includes Woodinville, Bothell, Duvall, and Carnation.

The event has teams of 6 to 10 boys called a patrol, travel and compete at various gold rush themed activities to see which Scouts have what it takes to be crowned “Kings of the Klondike.”

Each patrol must build their own handcrafted dog sled — in this case powered by teams of teens, rather than teams of dogs.

At each station on the course, the Scouts are presented with a challenge, that they must tackle using teamwork, Scouting skills and outdoor knowhow.

Stations included the Snowblind Sled Obstacle Course, Team Snowshoes, Rope River Crossing, Speed Fire Building, Emergency Shelter Building, and the unique Bungee Run.

The run has the Scout harnessed to tree using a bungee cable, and has him run as far out from the tree as he can, before being yanked back and to the ground, thrown into submission by the powerful snap of the bungee cord — call it horizontal, bungee-induced gravity.

The competition’s finale is the heart-pounding all-out “Dash to Dawson” – a sled race where Scouts sprint in a stampede to pull their sleds across the 200 yard snowfield, vying to be the first to get crew and sled across the finish line.  The winning team this year used a rather ingenious bamboo constructed sled, which cut out on weight while not sacrificing strength.  Although much bamboo was not unlikely to have graced the actual Yukon of the 1890s, the unorthodox design paid off.

After the Dash, the points were totaled and an awards ceremony was held to recognize the most skilled Scout patrols, with awards for the top finishers at each station, and the naming of the winners of the overall competition.  The top finishing patrols for Scouting’s Northlakes Klondike 2013 were:

• 3rd place — the Muffin Tops of Troop 627, Bothell;

• 2nd place — the Holy Hedge-Sharks of Troop 909, Woodinville;

• 1st place —  repeating as champs and “Kings of the Klondike”  the Falcons of Troop 909, Woodinville.

Woodinville Lavender is the place to go for all things lavender

  • Written by Deborah Stone
Lavender 2Sequim is the lavender capital of the Northwest. The town is well-known for its annual festival that celebrates the aromatic plant and pays homage to it in a myriad of ways.

But, getting to Sequim from Woodinville can be a bit of a journey.

Now, local residents have a more accessible option when it comes to finding this alluring and fragrant flower, in the field and in product form.

Woodinville Lavender opened to the public last year and is slowly beginning to make a name for itself with locals and visitors alike.

Owners Tom and Brenda Frei bought the three-acre property off Woodinville-Redmond Road back in 2008. The local couple had been looking for suitable land to start a lavender farm when they spotted the space.

“It was ideal,” says Tom. “We knocked on the door to tell the people that if they ever wanted to sell, we would be interested in buying. It turns out they were a week away from calling a real estate agent.” He adds, “It was truly meant to be.”

Frei is no stranger to farms, as he grew up on one in Idaho and has always been an avid gardener. For several years, he had been searching for a business of his own. After visiting Sequim with his wife, he had an epiphany and upon his return, he began to plan how to make his idea into reality.

“Lavender is such a practical and hardy plant,” explains Frei. “You plant it once and you can get 15 years from it. It’s low maintenance and drought tolerant, and it also has no real pest or disease problem. And, of course, it’s beautiful, smells incredible and you can make thousands of products from it.”

In regards to the location of the farm, Frei comments that the growing conditions for lavender are optimal in the Sammamish Valley. Equally important is the fact that the property is right in the heart of the wine country.

He adds, “This gives it an agritourism component, which is really appealing to me.”

Though primarily Frei’s “baby,” Woodinville Lavender is a family effort, but one in which members (wife Brenda, sons Justin and Josh, daughter Nicole and daughter-in-law Brooke) help out when their “day jobs” permit them.

That includes Frei, too, who is a mechanical engineer for Aerojet in Redmond.

After spending the first couple years planting test beds of lavender and amending the soil, the local man was ready to take the next step and market the crop. He began selling bundles of lavender at local farmers markets and the response from customers was overwhelmingly positive.

Then came an assortment of value-added products, including lotions, bath salts, oils and soaps. Today, Frei sells over 100 items made with lavender, ranging from spice mixes, sugars and tea blends to candles, diffusers and eye and neck pillows.

“We keep adding more products, but it’s been a gradual process,” he explains. “Quality control is important. We need to make sure that each item we make meets a high standard before we put it on the market.”

Last year, Frei decided to stop selling at farmers markets due to the time commitment. Now, the farm is open to the public (weekends in winter and Wednesday-Sunday during the summer), along with a store featuring the various products available.

Come June, the fields will bloom and visitors can pick their own lavender or purchase it ready-to-go. Or, they can simply revel in the ooh and aah-worthy spectacle.

“I have about one acre that’s planted with 3,000 plants,” says Frei. “It’s less of an agricultural setting and more of a landscaped garden — more intimate.” He adds, “It lends itself to being a really nice wedding and special event venue, especially because we have both indoor and outdoor space. That’s what we’re working on marketing now, and actually, we have our first event here coming up in May.”

Although the business is steadily progressing, it has not been without challenges. One of the main problems is time.

Frei explains that there is a ton of opportunity, but not enough time.

He will be taking three months off of his job this summer and hopes to find someone to hire to help him with the farm.

Another issue is marketing. He says, “Right now, people learn about us via word-of-mouth or they pass by and see our sign up on the road. I need to decide how to spend my money wisely in order to market most effectively.”

And finally, Frei must determine how he can build the business to become sustainable. He adds, “My dream is to be big enough so I can do this full time. In five years, I’d like it to pay for itself and slowly replace my income.”

In the meantime, the local man is enjoying the response he gets each time someone visits the farm.

“The reward for me is seeing how excited people are when they see the lavender,” he says. “They’re so happy to find us and that feedback feels good. It makes me proud of what we’ve done here, what we’ve successfully started.”

For more information about Woodinville Lavender: (425) 398-3785 or

New location, new name and new owner for Studio I

  • Written by Deborah Stone
Studio I
Photo courtesy of Studio I Sue Warter (front) and Beth Ith
Studio I Dance has been a fixture in the community for 26 years.

Most of that time, it has been housed at the same location, on the backside of the Woodgate shopping center.

Come next fall, however, the school will have new digs, along with a new director/owner and a new name.

Sue Warter, who has been at the helm of the studio since its inception, is passing the torch to her daughter, Beth Ith.

“I’ve basically grown up with the studio,” comments Ith. “My mom opened it when I was in fourth grade and I took classes for years and eventually became a teacher. I’ve always been passionate about dance.”

She adds, “My mom is ready at this point in life to hand the business over to me. She will still teach a few classes and help out at the front desk and I will, of course, look to her for advice. But, she feels that it’s time to take more of a back seat.”

As to the studio’s new location, Ith notes it will still be in Woodinville.

She says, “We’re moving into a place off of the Woodinville-Redmond Road in a more industrial area of town.”

Ith explains that the motivation for the change of venue stems from a need for more space, as well as a desire to be in a different area of the city with other businesses that are more appropriately suited to a dance school’s younger clientele. She points out that at the current location, there is a bar in close proximity to the studio. At 6,700 square-feet, the new facility will be almost double the size of the current studio. There will be three dance rooms, upgraded flooring and a better sound system, as well as a study area for students to do their homework and a more spacious waiting/observation lobby for parents.

“We feel that all these things will help to attract more students to Studio I and allow it to continue growing,” comments Ith.

With three young boys of her own, the local woman knows that her plate will be very full when she assumes responsibility for the dance school.

“It’s a big step for my family,” she says. “It’s a big journey and I’m nervous and excited at the same time. But, I have a wonderful husband and family who are very supportive of me, not to mention all of my great students and their families.”

She adds, “It’s still a bit scary when I think about it though.”

In regards to a name change, Ith decided she wanted a fresh start.

She notes that Studio I will always be associated with her mom who founded the school years ago.

“But, now it’s mine,” she says, “and I wanted it to have a new identity. It’s going to be called Rhythm & Soul Dance Studio.”

She emphasizes that though the name is changing, the heart of the studio will still be the same and Studio I will always remain a piece of the new school.

Ith attributes the success and longevity of Studio I to its environment, quality of instructors and the variety of classes offered.

“We are all about the personal connection here,” she explains. “We take the time to get to know our students. My students are like my kids. We’re a family here. I think this is a different type of experience than you might get at other studios.” Ith adds, “Our teachers are very skilled and they are constantly taking workshops and getting more training from well-known dance professionals. Because we have a dance competition team here, they know they need to keep up with the trends, techniques and choreography.”

A grand opening is planned for the new facility at the end of August/early September. Meanwhile, business is as usual at the current Studio I location.

“We’ll have our six-week summer session here while we do the build-out over at the new place,” says Ith. “And then we’ll open the doors in September.”

Local landscaping company makes significant changes to reduce its carbon footprint

  • Written by Deborah Stone
Propane Mower Clip courtesy
Courtesy photo Propane mower
Jeff and Linda Carroll, owners of Jefferson Landscaping in Woodinville, are proud to tell clients that their company is the first landscaping establishment in the state that has made a full conversion from gasoline to propane mowers.

It’s been a gradual process involving several years of research, motivated by the couple’s desire to reduce the company’s carbon footprint.

Initially, they converted two of their midsize mowers to propane to see how they would perform.

Impressed with the results, they proceeded to convert their entire fleet of mowers; a goal they recently achieved.

“Linda and I hope that Jefferson Landscaping can do its part in leaving this planet in better shape for generations to come, for our children and their children,” says Carroll.

He notes that by converting to propane, the company is able to meet or exceed state EPA Clean Air requirements; reduce toxic emissions up to 80 percent; decrease ozone and particulate emissions up to 60 percent; provide customers with a cleaner environment; conduct safer operations than with gasoline; and lessen fuel spillage and theft.

Carroll explains that propane is a non-toxic, colorless and odorless gas produced from natural gas processing and crude oil refining.

It’s clean, efficient and has long been recognized as an environmentally friendly energy that is safe for use at home and in business environments.

Propane is an approved alternate fuel listed in both the Clean Air Act of 1990 and the Natural Energy Policy Act of 2005.

The benefits of using propane lawn mowers are numerous according to Carroll.

He says, “There’s less exhaust, less fumes and less noise. And the emission results to our planet are immediate.”

He adds, “Propane doesn’t contaminate the environment like gasoline and diesel. One gasoline-powered mower, for example, pollutes as much in one hour as 40 late- model cars. The propane mowers, on the other hand, produce significantly less hydrocarbons than gasoline and diesel mowers. Hydrocarbons are a precursor to ground-level ozone, a serious air pollutant and component of smog.”

As for cost savings, Carroll comments that he should be able to recoup his investment in three years.

Now that the company’s mowers are all converted, the couple is in the process of converting all of the two-cycle, hand-held equipment, including blowers, weed eaters and hedge trimmers, to battery power.

This will also help to decrease pollution and noise levels.

“When our clients are having meetings at their home office, it will mean less noise while our team is there,” explains Carroll. “It will make for a less disruptive meeting. The same goes for the few commercial accounts we have. I have been in several meetings where the blowers and line trimmers were so loud we had to stop the session for the landscape technician to pass by because of the noise.”

The local man notes that making these types of changes involves challenges.

He says, “The products are so new, it’s all a learning curve for everyone involved from manufacturer to the contractor. You really have to make sure you are receiving the correct information. And, of course, new technology means the products are expensive.”

In Carroll’s opinion, it’s these factors – cost and learning curve – that are at the root of why the majority of companies are hesitant to make conversions.

He adds, “With new technology, there are always a few problems. We think, though, that the small problems we run into are worth a cleaner environment.”