It’s probably occurred to you that just like humans, pets and the products we use to care for them have a significant impact on our environment. On the plus side, being in close relationship to animals help connect us to nature. By sharing our lives with these formerly undomesticated creatures, we get more attuned to the natural world and hopefully better stewards of the land. Yet, we’ve entered a new era, one that A Sierra Club article described as “the calculating Sparky’s CO2 emissions phase.”
The statistics are staggering, as most climate crisis data points are: According to a 2017 study, just feeding the cats and dogs of North America emits up to 64 million tons of greenhouse gases a year, which has about the same climate impact as a year’s worth of driving from 13.6 million cars.
Or to put an even finer point on it, “The average European cat uses as many resources in his lifetime as the average African,” said Jason Clay of the World Wildlife Fund (WWF) in a presentation to the Pet Sustainability Council.
As you yourself become more aware of the necessity of reducing your own carbon footprint, consider these five tips to make caring for your furry friend more sustainable as well.
Tips for Zero Waste Pet Care
Choose sustainable pet food
Just as the production of meat for human consumption contributes to greenhouse gas emissions, the production of pet food has a huge impact. Opt for more sustainable brands that focus on reducing food waste by including the parts of the animal raised for human food that Americans tend to wrinkle their nose at. Meat-based pet food with minimal footprints uses every part of the animals we slaughter for human food, including organs.
These ingredients (which do not include hair, horns, teeth or intestinal contents), often collectively termed “by-products,” can be very good-quality sources of nutrients that pets enjoy. They reduce environmental impact and supporting sustainability by reducing food waste.
Another option is to try alternate forms of protein: Several pet food brands have begun selling dog and cat food including insect protein as the idea of reducing one’s ‘carbon pawprint’ is becoming more widespread. Another aspect of pet food worth investigating is whether the packaging is easy to recycle and adheres to sustainable manufacturing practices. Finally, once you find a brand of food your pet likes, reduce packaging waste by buying bigger sizes.
Opt for toxin-free pet care products
Organic, non-toxic ingredients are not only better for your pet and their coats, they’re also safer for the environment. Traditional shampoos and conditioners tend to contain harsh chemicals (including pesticides and carcinogens) that can irritate your pet’s skin and pose serious health risks if consumed. As they move into our sinks and discharge into waterways, those same chemicals create a serious contamination, which in turn harm fish and wildlife. Specifically, avoid products that contain artificial dyes and fragrances, parabens, sulfates and mineral oils.
Fortunately, clean and green pet grooming products are much more plentiful than they used to be. And they are just as effective, if not doubly so, at keeping your best friend fresh and clean.
Follow conscious poop protocols
The Environmental Protection Agency estimates that the typical dog generates three quarters of a pound of waste per day, or 274 pounds per year. Not only is picking up after your dog the right thing to do, but it also prevents fecal runoff. Fecal runoff sounds just like what you might imagine it is: It’s when rainwater or meltwater carries bits of feces into the water system and ends up in lakes, rivers, or anywhere that wastewater and storm water go. All those bacteria, parasites, phosphorus, etc. found in dog poop washes into our water systems to become the third largest contributor of bacterial pollution in urban waterways. Scientists estimate pet waste may be responsible for 20-30 percent of harmful bacteria.
So what’s the best way to scoop the poop? Why a biodegradable bag would seem like the obvious choice, they are only biodegradable under certain conditions. According to cleanupnews.org, “In order for these bags to break down, they need constant exposure to oxygen, which they don’t get in a landfill—they just get buried by more trash. At this point, the bag of dog poop becomes “mummified” and actually remains just as intact as a plastic bag would. One bright alternative to plastic bags are newer companies working with non-chlorine bleached recycled paper bags, which leave much less of a trace than any kind of plastic bag.
And when it comes to cat litter, there are many smart choices that take less of a toll on the environment. Litter made from wood, paper, bamboo, corn, grass seed and wheat, though perhaps less convenient and more expensive, offer viable, low-impact solutions to the kitty litter issue.
Get creative with toys and accessories
Many toys, bowls, accessories and beds are made of synthetic materials. All too often, dogs will chew up their toys till they’re useless. People will then throw out these plastics, which do not decompose. Amore sustainable choice would be to purchase toys and accessories made from recycled or repurposed pieces. And if your pet no longer wants a particular item, try donating it to an animal shelter, which gives it a second life as well as prevents more pollutants in landfills or floating garbage patches.
Everything from pet beds and pet bowls to collars and toys should be carefully vetted for upcycled materials such as:
- Clothing, blankets and pet beds made of bamboo
- Collars, toys and clothing made from recycled plastic bottles
- Small pet bedding made of natural fibers or recycled paper
- Stainless-steel or ceramic pet bowls versus traditional plastic dishes
In addition, you can try shopping for gently used pet products at second-hand stores or asking friends or family for toys or supplies they no longer use.
Consider green burial
We all hate to think about our pet dying, but a little advance planning can soften the eco-punch of pet interment. Why not explore the option of biodegradable caskets and urns, often made from willow, mulberry bark, and recycled cardboard. In general, cremation is thought to have a 10 percent less environmental impact than burial. And note that backyard burial is illegal in some states and can pose dangers to animals that may scavenge your pet’s body—diseases and lingering euthanasia drugs can be passed on this way. Finally, a generous way to pay homage to your departed pet’s legacy by donating used toys, bowls and bedding to your local shelter.