Guest post by Maggie Marton, author of The Zero Waste Pet.
Loving pets and loving the planet don’t have to be mutually exclusive.
That sounds obvious, right? You love your pets, and you want to live in a healthy, clean, non-toxic home. But once you start digging into the research on raising an eco-friendly pet, much of the info out there focuses on the idea that, to live a sustainable life, you simply can’t have a pet.
As a lifelong dog lover, a crazy cat lady, and a nature-loving eco-mama, I couldn’t accept that. I would never live without pets, yet I am committed to lessening my impact on the planet. How could I lessen my pets’ carbon pawprints?
I kicked off my healthy and green pet care journey with the two biggies: food and waste.
Eco-Friendly Pet Food
Pet food impacts the environment because pets consume a lot of resources. “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.
Cats are obligate carnivores. Their bodies require meat. Meat production has a huge environmental footprint. Feed your cat protein that requires fewer resources; ditch beef for chicken, for instance. Then, talk to your vet about your cat’s weight. Most cats are overweight. You might be able to feed your cat less to get her to a healthy weight, which saves the planet resources, saves you money, and gives her a longer, happier life.
Dogs are omnivores. They need a varied diet and can thrive with less meat. Always check with your vet, but it’s possible to diminish the amount of commercial food your dog eats by substituting fresh fruits and vegetables. (Bonus points if you grow your own!) Since more than half of all dogs are overweight, this is a win-win for the planet and your dog’s health. And keep an eye out for some exciting developments in dog food: Up-and-coming pet food brands are incorporating invasive species like nutria and Asian carp or novel proteins like crickets.
As for packaging, purchase cat food in cans. Many dry food bags contain a coating on the inner lining that prevents it from being recycled. Choosing wet ensures the packaging can stay out of the landfill. Unfortunately, canned food for dogs is often cost-prohibitive to feed exclusively. To cut down on packaging waste created by your pet’s food, consider a brand that participates in Terracycle.
Sustainable Pet Waste Management
Once you nail down a low-impact feeding routine… what goes in must come out. Pet waste impacts the environment when left unmanaged.
First things first, cat owners: Ditch the clay litter. It’s strip-mined, and contains tiny dust particles that cause respiratory problems for you and your cat. Choose one of the many natural alternatives, like recycled newsprint, non-GMO grass seed, corn husks, coconut shells, and more. Cats are finicky, so you might have to test a few before you hit on a solution.
Since these litters won’t clump like the clay litters, you’ll have to scoop more frequently, which also means you don’t have to refill the box as often since you’re removing less litter with each scoop. That’ll stretch your dollar while you save the planet! One note: Never flush or backyard compost cat waste. Cats can carry toxoplasmosis, a parasite that can’t be treated by most water treatment facilities and might not be killed in a backyard compost heap. Check your municipality to see how they want you to handle the waste. When in doubt, scoop and toss in your regular trash.
For dogs, there’s no Poop Fairy who picks up after your pet, and left-behind piles contaminate groundwater. Dog poop can be composted for flowering gardens, or there are septic systems you bury in your backyard, like the Doggie Dooley. That’s unreasonable, though, for apartment dwellers or anyone with a tiny backyard. Instead, flush your dog’s poop. Call your local water treatment facility to make sure it’s OK, but the EPA recommends flushing as the safest option. And if that’s not possible–say, you’re out on a hike or far from home–use a plant-based pickup bag and toss it in the trash or municipal compost bin (check with your municipality first).
Bottom line: You can love your pets and love your planet at the same time. These are only two areas of pet care where you can make a significant, positive impact on the environment with tiny changes. Every small step adds up to create a tremendous impact.
I’m so grateful to Emma for allowing me to share these ideas about greener pet care. If you want to dig into any of these topics, or discover other ways your pets can help you save the planet, come join the discussion over at TheZeroWastePet.com!