Western Great Lakes Bird and Bat Observatory

See the new Wisconsin Breeding Bird Atlas webpage at: http://wsobirds.org/atlas

Living the Seven Simple Actions: Getting Closer to Plastic Free Living

Jennifer Phillips-Vanderberg, Observatory Director
My long-term goal is to remove plastic from my house. Plastic is bad for birds, ecosystems, and us. I know that; I’m guessing you do too. But plastic is so easy. You can walk into the store and pick up a plastic bottle of X liquid and be done.  
Replacing that plastic is more challenging. It often means ordering a specialty item online or paying more money. For many items, there is not a viable alternative. The effort is worth it, and once you know how to make it easy, it becomes second nature. 
I am always looking at the benefits and barriers to completing pro-environmental actions, both at home and at work. After examining my own, I needed a reasonable goal and a convenient way to acquire the reduced plastic options. The bathroom seemed like a feasible goal, being a small room with reasonably priced and available plastic alternatives.  
We had been refilling a plastic hand soap dispenser from a giant bottle. This uses less plastic than replacing the soap dispenser each time, but still uses plastic bottles to transport the soap.  
We ended up recycling our last refill bottle and replacing it with Blueland* hand soap. Blueland hand soap is a tablet of soap concentrate to which you add water and use as foaming soap (see image). Using tablets (not liquid) means they aren’t shipping extra weight, reducing the carbon footprint as well. They get bonus points for compostable wrappers and plastic-free packaging. While I was at it, I also upgraded my cleaning products to reduce single-use plastic and weight transported by using tablet-based household cleaners. Blueland products come in a variety of scents as well as unscented. 


Next up was the shower. When I started, I had the typical shower filled with plastic bottles- shampoo, conditioner, body wash, face wash… This was where I decided I needed an easier method than finding each replacement on a different website. I tried Grove Collaborative to group my purchases and make my life easier. I could transform my shower with on one website.  


 Grove is nice because all purchases are plastic-neutral, and they pledge to be 100% plastic free by 2025. While I am skeptical of company environmental pledges, they seem well on their way. Grove offsets their direct emissions (only the company’s emissions, not suppliers) and pledge to be net zero (including their suppliers) by 2030. Plus, like Blueland, they are a “B corp”. These are good things to be on the lookout for. 
Most of these plastic replacements were easy, exchange a plastic bottle with a bar - bar shampoo, bar conditioner, bar soap. If you aren’t ready to go the bar route for everything, there is a growing number of aluminum bottled products. Aluminum is a lot better than plastic because it does get recycled (most plastic doesn’t) and doesn’t pollute the same way that plastics do. I’ve replaced items as they were emptied, and as of this writing, I only have two plastic bottles left in my shower- face wash and dog shampoo.
One hidden source of plastic can be synthetic fibers in fabric that contribute to micro-plastic pollution when washed. We had some polyester blend towels and a polyester shower curtain. After looking for years for a good-looking plastic-free shower curtain that matched the bathroom, I found an organic cotton shower curtain. The old one is living in my sewing basket for the next good use of the fabric. 
Our towels were embarrassing. They had long, good lives- some over 20 years. I tried to patch and re-edge them, and then I broke down and stalked online sales until I found organic cotton towels at a steep discount and purchased enough for both bathrooms. Using Google shopping really helped me find sales and compare prices on different sites.  
I take satisfaction in repurposing items that cannot be repaired. Fortunately, we started fostering rabbits and guinea pigs. The old towels kept them off the hard basement floor, absorbed accidents, and provided hiding places, giving the towels a second life. 
What have you changed to reduce the plastic in your home? What new ways do you want to try? Share your ideas on social media! We always love to hear from you.  
*All products listed here are ones that I have used with success, but there are many others. Think of this as a detailed Google review, not an expert opinion.  
This article does not constitute an endorsement by the Observatory of any products or companies.  

2023 Native Plant Sale List

Native Plant Sale

Veterans Park in Port Washington, Wisconsin 

Saturday, May 20, 2023   

9am to 3pm 

Click below to preview the plants we will be selling!


Living the Seven Simple Actions

Bird-safe Coffee

By Jennifer Phillips-Vanderberg
A new year, a new beginning. As you can read in the Spotlight on the Observatory, this is certainly true for the Observatory with the significant expansions of our two pillar projects this year. 
On a personal level, I am trying to live my life more consistently with my values in 2023 (the same goal I have been working on for years), including making the world a better place for birds, pollinators, water, and broadly, the environment. To that end, I want to share my experiences with “Living the 7 Simple Actions,” a new and recurring social media and newsletter series, chronicling my successes and failures in making my life work with bird-friendly actions.  I welcome others to share their experiences as well on Facebook or in future articles. 
As a biologist who is learning behavioral change science, I am trying to capitalize on the Fresh Start Effect, the phenomenon that people are more likely to take action toward a goal after a life or temporal landmark that represents a new beginning. If you aren’t able to build a system that supports this change, it is often hard to maintain, but the Fresh Start Effect can get you going.   To simplify this broad goal for living life, I chose to focus on the Seven Simple Actions to Help BirdsFor those unfamiliar with Cornell University’s Seven Simple Actions to Help Birds, here they are: 

  1. Make Windows Safer, Day and Night
  2. Keep Cats Indoors
  3. Reduce Lawn, Plant Native Plants
  4. Avoid Pesticides (my personal addition: avoid fertilizer)
  5. Drink Coffee That’s Good for Birds
  6. Protect Our Planet from Plastic
  7. Participate in Community Science

My goal for this project is to share struggles we all have with doing the right thing in the real world and to demystify some of the ways we can make it easier and more livable given the constraints we all have.  
I’m deciding to tackle bird-safe coffee first. Who doesn’t love piping hot coffee during these chilly January mornings? Cocoa drinkers, heads up there is bird-friendly certified hot cocoa as well. Tea drinkers, sorry, nothing for you, yet. 
Bird-safe coffee is coffee that has been certified to follow a set of standards developed by the Smithsonian to ensure that the coffee is grown in a way that offers habitat to birds by growing coffee under an overstory of trees, mimicking the layers of natural habitats.
As a student of behavior change science, I started by making a list of what my barriers were to buying bird-friendly coffee. While other folks likely have other barriers, mine came down to a rather basic way I live my life: I go grocery shopping when I run out of food (read as: we only have condiments and cans). I’m not a big planner when it comes to my house. It feels like my brain uses all of its planning power for work, my garden, and my vacations, with little left over to other things, like making sure we have food to survive and forecasting when we will need our next bag of coffee. 
This is a problem when it comes to the typical ways of finding bird-friendly coffee. Pull up any bird-friendly coffee website and it gives you lists of where you can buy coffee online unless you are one of the lucky few that have a local retailer (none are listed in Wisconsin on the Smithsonian’s Map). Instead, there are an overwhelming number of options, all days to weeks away. That is not going to cut it for my just-in-time style of shopping. 
So, what’s a busy but motivated bird-nerd going to do? Be “that” person that everyone avoids at local grocery stores (of course). I sat down on the floor of the Meijer coffee aisle and looked at every single bag of coffee to see if any had the Bird Friendly Seal, a certification offered by the Smithsonian’s National Zoo and Conservation Biology Institute. My husband would not support me in this this step and wandered away, while pretending not to know me. Forty bags in, I found one (Café Fair for only $8.99, well within the range of other “premium coffees”). 
Combined with curbside pick-up, bird-friendly coffee has become a part of my busy life that doesn’t need much thought or planning, addressing my primary barrier. For anyone considering making the switch to bird-friendly coffee, think about the barriers keeping you from doing it- lack of knowledge, hassle of getting it, cost, etc. These barriers are specific to you and can be anything (no judgement). Then think about how you can address them. Without addressing them, it is difficult and more taxing mentally to make changes and turn the Fresh Start Effect into long-term change. 
I would like to offer a challenge to our readers: Find stores that carry bird-friendly coffee on their shelves. So far, I have found Festival Foods, Meijer, and Sendik’s. We are going to make a map to share stores where you can immediately pick up bird-friendly coffee. Still, we need more options before we do that.  On Monday, January 16, we will be posting a call for all bird-friendly coffee locations to be on Facebook. Please add any you know of. Together we can lower the barriers to drinking bird-friendly coffee!