Getting bear-proof in Aspen |

Getting bear-proof in Aspen

Contributed photoA grizzly bear tries to pry open a trash can made by BearSaver at the Grizzly and Wolf and Discovery Center in West Yellowstone, Mont. Manufacturers who sell bear-proof containers in order to comply with local laws test their products with grizzlies before selling them to consumers. In Aspen, the containers are aimed at fending off black bears.

ASPEN ” Local laws mandating residents and businesses to bear proof their trash has injected life into a cottage industry for garbage can manufacturers.

There are a handful of suppliers who sell their products in the Roaring Fork Valley, with most of them being purchased in bulk by waste haulers, local governments and entrepreneurs who are capitalizing on the niche market.

“It’s definitely a growing industry,” said Kevin Wright, wildlife manager for the Aspen district of the Colorado Division of Wildlife. “There are so many different containers out there.”

It appears that one of the predominant suppliers locally is Ontario, Calif.-based BearSaver, which has sold a few hundred of its metal trash cans to the city of Aspen, said Steve Thompson, director of sales and marketing for BearSaver.

He recently explained the design aspects of the product to the Aspen City Council in hopes of getting a larger contract.

“It’s definitely a niche industry,” Thompson said, adding his company plans to run advertisements on local television stations to lure residential customers and business owners. He said he hopes that within three years, most residential customers will have his product.

“Trash haulers are going to be our biggest customer … hopefully it will take off,” he said.

Thompson does have some competition, however. When people are found to not be in compliance with the law, enforcement officers will give them a list of suppliers, which includes up to two dozen manufacturers and waste haulers that provide bear-proof or resistant containers.

There are about four or five manufacturers that Thompson considers his real competition in the Roaring Fork Valley.

Some manufacturers are in state, such as Colorado Correctional Industries, which has prisoners from Canon City making the garbage cans. Like Thompson’s company, several of the manufacturers are out of state.

Thompson said his company sells the containers in bulk ” a typical order is a truckload of 220 95-gallon cans. Waste haulers buy them, sell them to their customers and then reorder when they get low.

The city of Aspen requires that waste haulers provide bear-proof or resistant containers. They are sold for between $170 and $400, depending on whether the cans are plastic or metal containers, which are required if they stay outside all day and night. The city spends $750 for each metal container it has on the street.

Aspen Trash, owned by Robert and Debra Kennedy, provides trash pickup service to Aspen residential customers. But they also sell metal, bear-proof containers made by the prisoners in Canon City. They’ll deliver and install them within 24 hours of an order.

The pair started the business in October and have 250 customers from Aspen to Woody Creek.

While BearSaver competes with many others in the industry, Thompson said his product is superior because the company has done the most research of any when it comes to creating a trash can that is indestructible by bears. BearSaver did research for 18 months before the first container went on the market, he added.

“You get these mom-and-pop shops who think they know,” Thompson said, adding BearSaver products are tested in a facility in West Yellowstone, Mont.

Like many manufacturers, BearSaver puts its product to the ultimate test ” trash containers filled with trout and honey or peanut butter spread on the lids are put in an enclosed area with grizzly bears for up to an hour. If the bears can’t penetrate the containers, they’re ready for public consumption.

While most metal containers and plastic cans are designed similarly, it’s the latching system that is key, Thompson said. BearSaver’s latch is patented and requires only one step, rather than two, which usually involves a cable or chain.

“Our lids close when pushed and if there is a secondary step to close it, it doesn’t get done, and that is what our competition offers,” Thompson said.

BearSaver cans, which are manufactured by a company named Otto, are modified and designed specifically for black bears, which have curved claws as opposed to straight claws on grizzlies.

“Their anatomy is different and black bears can open things easier,” Thompson said. “Our product is designed to defeat the capabilities of black bears.”

Thompson said Colorado is one of BearSaver’s largest markets and he expects it to be well into the future.

“Colorado is out ahead with their ordinances,” he said. “There’s not a lot of places that care enough. They are trying to fix a problem and we have the solution, so that part works out good for us.”

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