Low-Impact Insect Control: An Interview with Lin Ellis of Eco Friends Pest Control
May 1, 2016
Lin Ellis and her husband Mick are the owners of Eco Friends Pest Control, a local company that uses botanically-based insecticides for combating household pests instead of the more conventional petrochemical-based pesticides we tend to be more familiar with.
I found out about Eco Friends Pest Control from the Texas Earth Day website. Wanting to find out more, I visited their site to see what I could learn about their strategy to eliminate pests without harming people and pets in the process. Lin has graciously consented to an interview, which was conducted by email.
For the record, I’ve never used their service myself, so I cannot evaluate their company from a customer-based point of view.
Cary Birdwell: So, a good place to start is at the beginning. Can you tell me how you were inspired to start Eco Friends Pest Control?
Lin Ellis: I worked in animal medicine for many years, plus I grew up out in the country. Seeing these poor creatures who had been exposed to pesticides/herbicides was horrific. I knew there had to be a better way.
CB: Horrific? What do you mean? What happened to these animals that bothered you so much?
LE: They would have neurological symptoms, lethargy, nausea, vomiting, diarrhea and in some cases seizures, to name a few. These poor creatures did not know to stay away from the spray, even after it had dried. Animals don’t wear shoes and they lay on the ground. Their body would absorb the pesticides through their skin. It was horrible to see and makes you wonder what we are all being exposed to.
CB: What is the difference between botanical pest control and conventional pest control, and why do you consider botanical pest control better?
LE: Botanical comes from the plants. They are processed to last longer in the environment and then compost back into the Earth. Are they safe? No, nothing concentrated is safe. Conventional pesticides are a man- made product. They do not break down and compost back into the Earth. As far as anyone knows, DDT, along with many other synthetic chemicals, is still active in the ground.
CB: I see that your husband Mick is the company’s certified applicator, and that he is RIS (Reduced Impact Services) certified. What does Reduced Impact Services mean, and why is it important?
LE: We both are certified. Most pest control operators are not certified. To us it is very important. This is training that teaches us to inspect your property and tell you what needs to change in your environment to keep the pest under control and out of your home.
CB: How did you meet Dr. Ray Thompson, your staff entomologist? Do most exterminators have an entomologist on staff?
LE: I worked for 2 other companies before forming Eco Friends Pest Control. I met him then through the phone. Then in person when we started the company. He was instrumental in helping us build our company and what products we would use.
The two companies I worked for did not have an entomologist on staff. Larger companies do have a staff entomologist, but smaller ones do not.
CB: I see on your website that you currently use the Essentria line of botanical pesticides. Can you tell me a bit about this product line?
LE: I love this line. It is from a company called Eco Smart. The Essentria line is EPA exempt. It is so low in toxicity it does not harm the environment. We use it all the time. It is very effective on so many bugs. Has a wonderful fragrance from the plants it is made from.
CB: I’ve never heard of any product being EPA exempt. What does that mean? Exempt from what?
LE: The EPA established a protocol under law 25B2. The 25B2 law provides a very short list of ingredients that can be used to make a pesticide. All ingredients must be listed on the label, even what the inert ingredients are. The ingredients are of such a low toxicity level that they are not regulated if on this list. This does not mean they are not toxic, just so low they are not dangerous to the environment.
CB: How many different kinds or brands of botanical pesticides did you have to use before you found one that worked really well?
LE: Dr. Thompson pointed us to the Eco Smart line from the get go. In the past year we have expanded to one other line. So many of the products out there present themselves as botanical when they are really synthetic chemicals. Some only have a botanical smell but are synthetic.
CB: If someone is taking the botanical approach to pest control, how often will their home have to be re-treated?
LE: Depends on the population and their wallet. We can only determine how big the population is visually. So we start there and give you our recommendation. The state recommends homes be treated quarterly. But if there is no issue then you are paying for something you may not need yet. Some of our clients want it done ever quarter and some want to wait. That is why we do not require contracts. We let you decide what you need.
CB: Can’t people just buy these botanical pesticides at the store or online and apply them themselves?
LE: You can only buy the consumer side of our products in the stores. What I use you need to have a license to buy from local suppliers. Some of our products can be bought on the internet but then you need the correct equipment. What is in the stores will break down. They are not made to handle commercial products. Plus, there is the training. You really need to know how to use it and where to put it. Take the Essentria line which is EPA exempt. Sounds harmless but depending on the product you are using you could kill all of your ornamental plants. Then there is water contamination and drift from spraying. Those could become legal problems for you.
CB: What are some of the most common and versatile plant ingredients used in botanical pesticides?
LE: Mint, Thyme, Cloves, Rosemary, Geraniums are just a few.
CB: I heard that marigolds make good pest deterrents when planted as a border for your garden. Is this true?
LE: Yes they are. So are Geraniums and the plants listed above. Garlic plants are beautiful as well as edible. Then there is lavender, basil, sage. There are so many wonderful plants that help and these are just a few. But always, always plant any mint in a pot. It is very invasive and will take over.
CB: On your website you don’t list spiders and wasps under your “beneficial” critters listing, but I was under the impression that both spiders and wasps were considered beneficial because they help control other insect species. I realize that spiders and wasps can be creepy and make people uncomfortable, but shouldn’t your clients be trying to keep them around instead of eliminating them?
LE: Everyone is different and most people find them creepy. When we get a call about spiders we let people know that is because they have bugs coming in. That is the only reason they are there, food. Wasp we leave alone unless they are a problem for the homeowner. They can be aggressive and a lot of people are allergic to their sting. My husband Mick and one of our employees, Rob, are allergic. Want to guess who gets to treat the wasps?
CB: I see that you treat for bed bugs, but my understanding is that bed bugs are nearly impossible to get rid of. One of the problems is that many of the commercial pesticides that effectively kill bed bugs are too toxic to be used around people, so effectively and completely eliminating them is problematic. So how effective is the EFPC process for killing bed bugs?
LE: We were not prepared for the beg bug invasion in this country. There were no studies done on them because we did not have them. Enough time has gone by that we know more about them now. The number one thing about them is they can live for 1 year without a blood meal. They don’t like the light and hide in cracks and crevices and lay their eggs in dark secluded place. Heat treatments work but don’t penetrate into the cracks and crevices. We use a food grade product called VA88. It is awesome and last for one year. You can even drink it, but I wouldn’t recommend it. We have used it many times and successfully every time.
CB: Will a single treatment eliminate bed bugs, or do you have to do follow up treatments?
LE: A majority of times one treatment is all that you need. The product itself is expensive but we give our clients a one year guarantee. You may have to go back because bed bugs do have so many hiding places. For us we might get called back once. So far that is all we have been called back for and only a couple of times. Either way we would go back however many times as needed.
CB: Well, I think that’s about it for now Lin. Thank you for your time. I’ve enjoyed learning about botanical pest control, and I wish you and your husband luck with the company for years to come.
LE: Thank you Cary for letting us share with you and your fans. Our goal is to let as many people as possible know they have a choice between botanical and synthetic pest control. By the way botanicals are classified as chemicals and the bad stuff as synthetic chemicals. They both work but we feel strongly about using the botanicals.
If you are interested in using Eco Friends Pest Control for your home of business, visit their website—a beautiful website, by the way—for more information on services and pricing.