Since its founding in 1981 by bird feeding hobbyist Jim Carpenter, Wild Birds Unlimited has been committed to providing the highest-quality products and customer experience. One of the company’s core values is to support sustainably-produced products whenever possible, which lead them to a vendor partnership with Backyard Nature Products.
Tom Sonntag, one of the new owners of Backyard Nature Products, works closely with Wild Birds Unlimited on a WBU-specific product line crafted from High-Density Polyethylene (HDPE) lumber called EcoTough®. Jaime Jones, Wild Birds Unlimited’s Merchandise Manager, explained that the connection between Backyard Nature Products and WBU was a natural one.
“Wild Birds Unlimited has a long-standing partnership with Backyard Nature Products and it is strengthened by mutual values of wanting to help the environment through providing sustainable products like our EcoTough® line of bird feeders and birdhouses made from recycled plastic,” said Jones.
So just what makes HDPE so great? And where does it come from?
“It is a pretty slow and lengthy process to extrude HDPE. However, the results are well worth it,” Sonntag said. “Approximately 10 milk jugs are repurposed per every pound of plastic produced. Our plastic is Green Circle-Certified, meaning the contents have been verified as truly recycled material. Furthermore, we return any poly waste from our manufacturing to the lumber suppliers to be recycled yet again.”
Backyard Nature Products’ approach is notable in a consumer environment that often demonizes plastic due to its harmful environmental footprint. According to Sonntag, however, not all plastics are created equal.
“HDPE is made from poly waste, or plastic, but it’s actually very environmentally sustainable,” Sonntag explained. “HDPE products have no harmful compounds and produce no harmful emissions during production nor use. These products are totally recyclable and can be recycled back when an owner is done. They are non-toxic, do not leach into the groundwater and do not contain BPA, a chemical often used in plastics manufacturing.”
Just a few of the environmentally beneficial results of using HDPE in manufacturing include a reduction in deforestation (cedar historically serve as a poly substitute) and extended product life.
“HDPE products last a long time because they don’t age like other furnishings--we guarantee up to 25 years, but they can last up to 50. The polymer naturally resists mold, insects, bacteria, mildew and UV rays,” Sonntag said. “When we think about deforestation and the speed with which we buy new, HDPE really comes into play to help us curb those factors. These products will probably outlast anything comparable.”
Sonntag also explained the extraction and manufacturing process for Wild Birds Unlimited’s HDPE product line. He said that, first, a recycler obtains the containers to be sourced (usually milk jugs but other times alternatives such as detergent containers). Next, the containers are sorted, cleaned, flaked and pelletized before being extruded into boards.
“That’s 95% of the product, and then the remainder is a colorant and a binder,” said Sonntag. “Since about 10 plastic containers go into every pound of plastic produced, that means that, if you have 2-lb. bird feeder, you’ve used about 20 containers. That’s a good amount of plastic that would otherwise go into a landfill that is instead going to use.”
“A respectful and sustainable approach to the environment is right in-line with Wild Birds Unlimited’s mission to bring people and nature together, and do so with excellence. We and Backyard Nature Products believe so highly in the manufacturing and effectiveness of our EcoTough products that they come with a lifetime guarantee,” said Jones.
“We’re on the earth for a limited amount of time--it makes sense to leave this better off than how we found it,” he said. “Being profitable and respecting the environment can go hand-in-hand; one doesn’t have to be excluded at the expense of the other."