Recycled Products are Here to Stay

Recycled Products are Here to Stay
The concept of birding products made from recycled material is not new, but still not well understood

A FEW YEARS AGO WHEN THE FIRST RECYCLED BIRD feeders showed up on the market, people thought they were interesting but the higher cost compared to traditional cedar feeders scared many consumers and retailers away. On some level, the industry knew they were a good idea, but would consumers buy into the concept? The initial seed feeders were unique and were soon followed by grape jelly feeders and houses.  Now, feeders, squirrel baffles, houses and gift items made from recycled materials are staples in many wild bird specialty retail stores and manufactured by trusted and true, well known industry names. If long time manufacturers like Birds’ Choice, Woodlink, Arundale and Songbird Essentials are making space in their catalogs for recycled products, the concept must be doing very well.

A classic example is Woodlink, a company originally known for its line of wooden hopper and flythrough feeders as well as its sturdy bluebird and wren boxes. Rick Swalwell, Director of Marketing for Woodlink noted the big increase of recycled product in their line in the last three years. “WoodLink is at about 50/50 right now for Going Green recycled product vs. our traditional cedar line of products.”

If you consider that Woodlink introduced their recycled product line only three years ago, that is a huge increase.  “Last year would have been in that 40% recycled and 60% wooden range,” said Salwell, “year one would have been probably 30/70.”

If recycled product were just a flash in the pan, a major manufacturer would not invest that much time and effort in their product line. Woodlink was inspired to introduce the recycled product because of market trends, but the success has been aided by an increase in demand from consumers, and materials available.  Because of consumer demand, recycled material for feeders and houses becomes more affordable, making the feeders easier to produce and sell, but also more in line cost-wise with traditional product.

“It’s a good thing for business to take that unwanted plastic material out of the environment,” Salwell said, “our inspiration was that this was market driven but it has helped that the material to construct the feeders is more affordable every year.”

If you compare a wooden hopper style feeder next to the exact same version made of recycled material, the recycled feeder will be more expensive, but there are benefits to recycled material.  Not only are the recycled feeders easier to clean, but also the material repels moisture helping seed to stay fresh longer. 

Another upside is that squirrels might nibble on plastic but rarely chew holes into the feeder like they would on a wooden feeder.  Overall, a recycled feeder will last longer than traditional wooden feeders.

For retailers who are hesitant to increase the product line, Woodlink has created a great display to help bring the value of recycled product home.  Their Going Green display is a clear acrylic tube filled with all kinds of plastic containers. It can be used to tell the story of how 30 jugs of plastic were removed from the environment for that display alone.  Hang some sturdy green hopper feeders and trays and it sells itself as customers can see the empty jugs right there.  The cost of the display is dependent upon first time orders of recycled product.  Studies show that consumers, who are interested in purchasing green and recycled product, want a “transparent experience.” The consumer wants to know the story behind the product, how it was made and how it will benefit the environment and the community overall.  This display taps into that transparent consumer experience.  If manufacturers are investing that much money in product and display, there must be demand.

Though manufacturers like Woodlink and Birds Choice have product produced from consumer recyclables, there are other types of recyclables out there, some you may have had in your store for years.  Arundale has been using recycled product for the last ten years, but of a different sort.
The SkyCafe and Mandarin Squirrel Baffle are made from recycled second-generation material.  Though many people are familiar with the consumer end of recycling of bottles and jugs, consumers can purchase products that have been recycled in a different way.

Anne Taussig, co-owner of Arundale said, “Technically, all of our feeders are made of recycled material and have been for the last ten years.  We don’t use post consumer recycling for our feeders and baffles, we use second generation recycling.”

The Arundale feeders are made of Plexiglas which is not made from jugs and bottles. When a company manufactures Plexiglas items they will have pieces left over that in some cases are thrown away. Some product may come off the line with imperfections, or Plexiglas pieces might be left over from molds.  These pieces are collected, ground up and melted to recreate new Plexiglas. 

“It’s what we are able to do,” said Taussig simply.  “Because of the process, there might be a tiny speck of black in the material, but now consumers seem to like that, it’s a sign that they are being conscientious by using second generation material.”

Besides their baffles and feeders, Arundale has also worked to have recycled items in their gift line.  Their line of mugs and travel mugs are made out of polymers derived from corn.  Polymers can be made from corn or oil and as the world seeks to reduce its dependency on fossil fuels, using polymers made from corn rather than oil is a real plus.

The story of both the repurposed Plexiglas, and mugs made by using polymers from corn comes ready-made with the story consumers are looking for when they purchase a green item.

“We like that not only are the polymers made from corn rather than oil,” Taussig said, “but we also like that everything is made in America.”
Taussig also pointed out that the mugs are technically recyclable, but not every city has a means of recycling mugs made of corn like they do for plastic bottles.

“Ultimately, we’re trying to make a difference where we can,” said Taussig.  “It’s like voting.  When you vote, you wonder if you are making a difference, but everyone together works to make a difference.  It’s the same with recycled product.”

When you wonder if recycled product is just a trend, take note of your product catalogs. Think back to how much they have changed in the last five years in their offerings. For that big of a change, the manufacturers believe it is here to stay.  And especially in this time of bad environmental news, consumers want hope and want to know what they can do in their small way to help. Choosing long lasting bird feeders and houses made from recycled product is a step in the right direction.

BY SHARON STITELER | Contributing Editor