From food packaging to single-use poop bags, many of the essential items surrounding our pets rely on packaging and the creation of quite a lot of waste. Is there a way to reduce your pets paw print, alongside your own carbon footprint?
Whether you feed your pet dry, wet, or raw food the main area you should focus on when trying to reduce waste is packaging, in fact just like food packaging is a big deal in the human world, it’s also a big issue in the pet world with dog and cat meals being sold in big plastic bags and tin cans. Yes most of the packaging can be recycled, but when possible refusing to use packaging is better than placing it in a recycling bin. This is even more necessary when it comes to pet food as the American Pet Products Association’s latest report shows that spending on pet food increased 4.3% between 2017 and 2018 to $30.32 billion…that’s a lot of packaging!
There are some pet food companies that promote themselves as being sustainable, but they often tend to be more expensive than other companies, and not everyone may be able to afford them. To cut down on waste (and on costs), consider either buying your pet’s food in bulk or cooking some of it yourself.
Research shops in your area and ask if they sell in bulk bins, and what sort of containers they use (can you bring your own?), or alternatively, look up recipes for homemade pet food or pet treats. Use ingredients you would find at any zero-waste grocery store, or ask your local butcher for cheap scraps. Of course always be mindful of the nutritional value your pet is getting so they are neither under nor overfed. Make enough for a week or two at a time, so it isn’t too time-consuming.
If neither of these options work for you, choose the largest food container possible (less waste per unit of food).
Taking care of poop
Let’s be clear that trying to reduce your consumption of plastics is not a reason to stop picking up your dog’s poop. Apart from being unpleasant (it smells and someone might step in it), the CDC says that dog waste can spread diseases including campylobacter, tapeworm, hookworm, roundworm, giardia and E.coli, and more rarely salmonella.
The first things you can do to sustainably collect your pets waste, is to purchase sturdy items for the job. This means pooper scoopers made of metal or of durable plastic as an alternative to single-use baggies. This of course works if you have a nearby trashcan, but if you’re on a long walk or in a situation in which carrying a scoop is unrealistic, opt for compostable bags instead. They're not as eco-friendly, but in many situations they're far more practical. If you order them online make sure the shipping packaging will be eco-friendly too.
In an ideal world, those bags will eventually make it to a composting facility, but even if they do get misplaced in transit, and end up being taken to landfill the damage will be minimal if the bags truly are compostable (don’t be mislead by bags labelled as ‘biodegradable’). If you have a garden, or somewhere to compost your dog’s waste, you could always do that by digging a whole, but keep in mind that the resulting compost should not be used with plants you intend to eat. Also, you shouldn’t bury dog waste somewhere close to a watershed, as pathogens could be released into the ground water which then end up in rivers and in the sea. Bacteria from dog poo regularly causes algal bloom and can shut down beaches for swimming or for shellfishing.
As far as indoor cats, try switching to compostable litter options made of pine, wheat, or recycled newspaper, as opposed to the standard clay mixture. Buy in bulk and possibly choose litter that is packaged in a large cardboard box which can be easily recycled or repurposed. Since cats can be pretty picky before buying a large quality of a new litter pick a small quantity of one you would like to try to transition to, and sprinkle a bit on top of your current litter to see what happens first.
When disposing of litter be aware that even so-called "flushable" litter, is not a good solution, both for your plumbing, but also for the health of those around you. In fact, cat feces, just like dog feces, can spread disease as they contain a parasite called Toxoplasma gondii that once in the local water supply can become poisonous to both humans and other animals. For this same reason, cat waste should also never be composted in your backyard.
Again, do your research to find out what’s available in your area, if you’re really lucky, some cities actually do have pet waste composting services available.
The amount of money that is spent on pets doesn’t all go to food, in fact, a large quantity goes to toys and accessories. If you’ve already got a large collection of items take good care of them and use them until they’re fit for purpose. Once time comes, be conscientious about what happens to it. Can someone else use it (to avoid spreading disease between pets, avoid sharing things like old litter boxes, dirty beds, or medical items)? Can it be repurposed in any way? Where will it be better recycled?
If you need to purchase something new keep sustainability in mind with everything your pet will need (water bowl, leashes, toys, carriers, beds, costumes, etc) and consider spending a little bit more for something that will last him longer. Before going out to buy something though, always consider things you already have, for example, Old t-shirts, ropes and other belongings you no longer use can be repurposed into toys.
Bathing and grooming
Keep things simple! For most animals, an occasional rinse will achieve everything your pet needs and more, but if you do insist on using shampoos and soaps you can always try making your own. Again though, most animals will be fine with fewer baths featuring fewer products. If you take your pet to a professional groomer ask what goes into your pets treatment and consider how much waste they’re creating (or not creating).
In many states, it is illegal to store prescription medication in anything other than labeled pill bottles, so it’s almost impossible to get waste-free medication. Instead find a way to repurpose those bottles into containers for small items (hairpins for example), or see if you can donate them to someone who has a need for them. For non medical treatments (flea or tick prevention for example) look into natural remedies you can easily produce at home. If your pet is in need of other items such as cones or splints, ask friends and family to see if they have one they could lend you, or purchase a reusable one (in the hopes your pet won’t need it again, or that it’s on hand to lend to others should they need it).
Think about your daily or weekly pet routine (walks, food, toys, etc) and start implementing these changes as time goes by. Do your research and when in doubt ask the internet! Whatever question or doubt you’re having about how to deal with certain aspects of waste-free pet living, chances are someone else has had that same doubt and has shared their experience for the benefit of others!