Earlier this summer, at one of the bonfire rallies at the beach organized to help gather support against the Air Quality Management District, which was then trying to ban fire rings in Southern California, I met Tom Sanetti.
The Huntington Beach entrepreneur, who has lived here for about 20 years, was at the event on this summer evening to demonstrate a product he created two years ago called the Earth Log.
Earth Logs, also the name of his company, are "green" fire logs that burn 80% cleaner than wood and generate three times the heat — while burning about two hours each with as strong a flame as wood. The logs are a 50-50 mix of candle wax and wastepaper.
Sanetti doesn't call himself an environmentalist per se, but he cares enough about the planet to have spent a lot of his own time and money on a product that he simply can't produce enough of to satisfy demand.
In a Huntington Beach warehouse, he has created a production facility that really is a marvel to behold. At first glance it all appears very makeshift, tons of shredded paper being loaded into forms with melted candle wax and then sent down a refurbished log splitter through a chamber that gets its cold air from a swamp cooler.
But upon closer look, one gets a sense of how simple and ingenious the whole operation is.
Sanetti, who likes to camp in the desert, was inspired by the cool desert nights. He was tired of lugging wood out there and also realized that wood gives off toxic smoke. He began working on Earth Logs in his kitchen and then eventually began producing them in his backyard.
He told me that when he learned that our country's No. 1 export to China was wastepaper, he thought, "Hey, why not keep some of that here and make something of it?" As for the candle wax, he gets that from textile companies and candle manufacturers and often it is scented, resulting in a product that is not only good for the environment but also smells good.
That's why you'll find fragrant Earth Logs that smell like kiwi, cinnamon, fresh cut grass and bubblegum. These are the only scented fire logs available. Sanetti even created the very first citronella log, scented with natural oil from edible lemongrass, to keep the bugs away. To test this new log, he took it to a jungle in Panama and said he was blown away by how effective it was at keeping mosquitoes at bay.
Seven full-time employees keep the Huntington Beach facility running, and eventually Sanetti would like to open production facilities across the country, wherever there are large amounts of wastepaper ready to be claimed.
Incredibly, up until about a month ago, the logs were being made one at a time by hand. But now, given the new process Sanetti has come up with, production is at about two per minute, which allows the company to just break even.
The logs are available at a variety of outlets, including Fresh & Easy and Mother's Market. They are also available at amazon.com and sell for about $5 per log.
The logs, good for indoor and outdoor uses, have become so popular that several other major retailers have tried to place orders recently. Sanetti has had to put them on hold, however, until he can figure out how to mass-produce at a higher level.
Given what he's done so far, I have no doubt he'll figure it out.
Sanetti became frustrated with several local companies that refused to sell him their wastepaper for fear of jeopardizing their contracts with China. So he instead created his own collective organization to help gather local wastepaper.
This is a very interesting local company, with a product that has great potential, and not just for beach bonfires
As Sanetti told me, "We used to make a green product that happened to be good. Now we make a great product that happens to be green."
CHRIS EPTING is the author of 19 books, including the new "Baseball in Orange County," from Arcadia Publishing. You can chat with him on Twitter @chrisepting or follow his column at http://www.facebook.com/hbindependent.