Idea took six years to create
From colorful lunch boxes to plain brown paper sacks, the common lunch has one thing in common: an abundance of hard-to-recycle sandwich bags.
For Valerie Hoy of Tualatin, finding a way to efficiently and effectively reuse all those plastic baggies seemed like a problem in need of a solution.
'My youngest child was going to elementary school and he was using three bags a day,' Hoy said. 'I was thinking, 'I can't throw this out.''
Hoy began washing the plastic bags by hand, but said many were left with a greasy film that she couldn't clean.
'Then I thought, 'There's no good way to wash these in the dishwasher either,'' Hoy said. ''Maybe I should invent something.''
What ensued was almost six years of research and development that resulted in the creation of the Washy Wonder.
The Washy Wonder is a set of two plastic implements, shaped like spatulas, that fasten onto the tines of a lower dishwashing rack. A plastic bag of any type and size (snack, quart or gallon) can then be placed over the Washy Wonder for effective cleaning and re-use.
Yet creating the tool was no simple task.
'My husband and I began buying plastic, going into the garage when the kids went to bed and drilling holes in it,' Hoy said. 'What we started and ended up with - you wouldn't even know. We went through all these different ideas, (thinking) 'How is this thing going to work?''
Factors like the durability of the material used, and the shape and size of the implements were under constant re-evaluation. Hoy said there was a point when she realized the progress of the invention relied on a knowledge of engineering that surpassed her abilities. It was then that she put a call out on Craigslist for a Computer Aided Design engineer. Hoy received a response from a man who assisted in the creation of an injection mold, providing her with the product's first molded prototype.
'The Home Depot in Sherwood must love me, because I would take my prototype to Home Depot and open up all the dishwashers and stick the prototypes in them to see if they fit (the different models),' Hoy said.
Eventually, after years of working with the engineer, her family and even her neighbors, Hoy settled on an easy-to-use design.
'I was surprised this wasn't out there,' Hoy said.
She did find a comparable product called the Bag-E-Wash, but was dissatisfied with what she saw.
'It had loopy things you had to assemble and I'm the kind of person that doesn't assemble anything,' Hoy said. 'That's why my product is so simple. I wanted it to be so simple you could just open up the package, drop it on and use it.'
Hoy's creation is right in line with her ideals.
A former Oregon State Trooper and Fish and Wildlife officer, Hoy also worked as an environmental investigator for the state.
'My parents were more thrifty, but I added that I have a heart for the environment,' she said. 'My husband and I are avid mountain climbers. We take our kids on all kinds of adventures, along with our dogs.'
After six years of work, Hoy is finally ready to put the Washy Wonder on the market, and hopes to start locally with companies like Zupan's and Whole Foods.
'I had no idea how to invent something, bring something to the market,' Hoy said. 'My kids came up with the name. The neighbors helped too: I gave moms in the neighborhood the prototypes and asked them what they liked and what they didn't like about it. So it's been a really neighborhood event.'
For other would-be-inventors out there, Hoy encourages them to take initiative.
'Talk to people, talk to your neighbors. The whole idea of people stealing your idea is just not true,' Hoy said. 'I have to say, I think the entrepreneurial spirit is alive in America. You just have to ask for help.'
To order the Washy Wonder, or for more information, visit washywonder.com.