Dunedin secondary school students competing in a Young Enterprise Scheme are igniting interest with ecological fire starters which use recycled egg trays, beeswax and untreated wood shavings.
“Every single aspect of our product is recycled,” Egnite Communications Director Edward Bernhardt says. “Recycled or natural.”
The student-produced fire starters are proving popular across the lower South Island. In the first week of their launch, 750 units were sold and three weeks later more than half the units in stock had been bought, including by return customers.
Egnite is sold by word-of-mouth, social media and at markets in Dunedin and as far afield as St Bathans in Central Otago and Greymouth on the West Coast.
Seven year 13 students from Kaikorai Valley College (KVC) in Dunedin are competing in the Lion Foundation Young Enterprise Scheme (YES) coordinated by the Otago Chamber of Commerce.
Marketing Director Kayla Muirhead says her mum has been making similar fire starters at home, although using candle wax.
“We just came up with the idea of making them into products and selling them,” she says.
Edwards adds, “From the start we wanted to do something that is eco-friendly and good for the environment”.
The most commonly-used candle wax is a petroleum by-product, paraffin. So instead the teenagers thought of using beeswax. This is locally-sourced from Clearskys honey producers in Mosgiel.
Edward says this raw, unprocessed wax burns clean and releases negative ions which help reduce carbon dioxide. It is a by-product left on the edges of honeycomb.
It’s almost the waste beeswax…that not many people want.”
In the workshop
In the college’s metal workshop, Production Director David Taing and Sales Director Travis Turner are surrounded by piles of egg trays donated by school staff, students and friends.
Each tray acts as ‘housing’ for the flammable materials. From the wood workshop, untreated pine, rimu and macrocarpa shavings serve the same purpose as kindling and the beeswax is like fuel.
David illustrates how they pour melted wax on the shaving-filled egg trays, which are then cut into individual units with a bandsaw.
The pair recount how the students developed three prototypes, experimenting with various waxes and amounts of shavings. Now they’ve perfected their fire starters, each tray takes five minutes to produce.
Every week the teenagers spend two hours as a team working on the enterprise and more time individually, each responsible for a different sphere.
Edward says beeswax is expensive and so they don’t generate a large profit. However, Egnite is a social enterprise and profits aren’t a top priority. Money is put back into marketing and production, especially buying beeswax.
It is a passion project really.”
Finance Director Kullathon (Mos) Sitthisarnwattanachai says they’ve handmade almost 1500 units and sold 800. The fire starters cost 50c each and are sold in $5 and $10 packs.
Social Media Director Bailey Rowe says for packaging, they’d originally used brown paper bags leftover from another project.
However, they’re now sewing old school hall curtains into bags – recycling again. A loyalty scheme encouraging customers to return packaging further promotes re-use.
Bailey gave her aunty a sample fire starter.
“She said she likes them because they don’t stink and they’re good for the environment.”
YES facilitator at KVC, Peter Dodds, says an enthusiastic customer wants to work with the students long-term at the Otago Farmers Market, raising both funds and environmental awareness.
The YES finals will take place in Wellington in December and Egnite aims to be there. Once the competition is over, the social enterprise can continue, be sold as a going concern or wound up.
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For further information:
About the Young Enterprise Scheme, click here