When we talk about steps we can all take to live our lives more sustainably, one thing that is often overlooked is how to apply those same things to how we care for our pets. Most of us are aware of the ways we can hurt the environment with how we consume resources and dispose of our waste, but the environmental impact of caring for pets seems to sometimes be forgotten. UCLA geography professor Gregory Okin found through his research that dogs and cats in American households, because of the meat they eat, create about 64 million tons of carbon dioxide a year, which has the same environmental impact of driving 13.6 million cars in the same amount of time. American pets also produce about 5.1 million tons of fecal waste in a year, which is about as much as what 90 million Americans would produce. That’s a lot, and that’s just in the United States of America.
As a pet owner myself, I’m definitely not advocating for turning away from pet ownership altogether. What I would like to do, however, is to share a few things that I’ve learned along the way as I’ve tried to make pet care more sustainable in my household.
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BUY IN BULK
Wherever and whenever possible, try to buy things like food and treats in bulk. Like everything else, these things come in packaging, and buying in bulk reduces the amount of packaging that we then need to dispose of once we’ve used up its contents.
I always buy my dog’s kibble in bulk and purchase the biggest bags of treats available so I can cut down on packaging. The same goes for other necessities such as waste bags and dental chews.
Buying things that are made and manufactured in your local community (or as close as you can get it) drastically reduces the distance an item has to travel to get to your home, which in turn reduces your carbon footprint. It’s also a great way of supporting local entrepreneurs and small businesses in your area and propping up your local economy.
I was lucky enough to find a local dog food brand (and by local I mean their head office is around 20 minutes from where I live) who also use locally sourced ingredients. Not everyone lucks out like this, of course, so don’t feel bad if you can’t find a local brand of food that you’re comfortable feeding your furry family members. I also try to buy treats from companies that manufacture their products locally as well. If we can’t get ones made in the state we’re in, we at least try to get ones made in the same country.
THINK OF DISPOSAL
If you’re really keen on reducing the amount of stuff you throw away, it helps to think about the disposal part of a product’s lifecycle before you actually purchase it. Take a minute to look at what packaging it comes in. Is it something you can recycle or compost or is it a whole bunch of soft plastics? Whenever you can, try to purchase products with little to no packaging, or packaged using materials you can recycle like paper or cardboard.
My dog’s food comes in 100% recyclable packaging which makes it so much easier to reduce my waste from pet care. I also try to get treats that come in recyclable packaging, but sometimes that’s difficult. As for waste bags, I just buy from brands that have cardboard packaging and cardboard cores. I also don’t buy toys often but when I do, I prefer to just get ones with either recyclable packaging, minimal packaging, or ideally, both.
You don’t always need new things for your pets. They can’t even tell whether something is brand new or not in the first place. Big-ticket items such as outdoor kennels and playpens or cat towers are perfectly fine to buy second hand. So are things like feeding bowls and some kinds of toys, provided that you check them for damage before purchase and sanitize them before use. Not only is this good for the environment, but it also saves you money.
This was something that I realized a bit late. After buying an outdoor dog house and an indoor crate, I found the same items being sold secondhand online. Most of them were still in good condition and were being advertised for much cheaper than what I spent for mine. If I bought them, all those secondhand items would have needed was a good clean and my dog could have used them just the same. So, don’t do what I did. Go online and look for secondhand items first before you buy something new.
MAKE YOUR OWN
We all like buying our beloved pets toys. However, I think a lot of pet owners have the experience of buying a nice, cute, new toy for their little buddy and finding that they prefer their old ones, or worse, a cardboard box or a sock. So, why not take advantage of that? Tie and sew stray socks that have lost their other halves together to make a new toy for your dog. Cut up old torn shirts and sew them into a little fabric ball for your cat. There are tons of ideas out there if you want to make your own dog or cat toys.
Some of my dog’s favorite toys are actually a bunch of socks tied together and a thick piece of rope tied tight at both ends. They cost us zero dollars to make and gives my little boy hours of fun.
Hopefully, these tips can help you make a start in being a more conscious pet owner and help you save some cash as well. Let us know which of these tips you've tried and how it went! Also, let us know if you have any additional tips for pet owners that have helped you in your bid to become a more environmentally conscious pet parent.