Just like I am, many of you are big animal lovers 😍! And many of you ask me about how to go zero waste with pets!
Unfortunately, my lifestyle at the moment is far from pet-friendly. I travel a lot for work (only by train and bus, but still), am basically sprinting from deadline to deadline, and have no idea how long we will stay at where we live now. So I clearly cannot give a pet what it deserves: being there for it, caring for it, and a reliable environment and steady routines.
Joy and Lyall, on the other hand, are AMAZING dog parents!! And I am extremely grateful that they agreed to share their zero waste pet care experience and tips here on Wasteland Rebel 💚!!! I learned so much, and definitely feel better prepared for the day when we can adopt a pet from the shelter.
Make sure to check out their blog, Sustainable Jungle! They have more tips on zero waste pet care (and many more adorable pup pics 😍🐾) you can check out. But psssst… Disclaimer! If you are into urban/apartment gardening and an indoor composting nerd like I am 🤓, you’ll spend a looot of time on that blog and end up with even more plants than before 🌿😇! Oh, and if you’re into podcasts (who isn’t??), then make sure to also subscribe to their podcast!
Joy and I grew up with pets (dogs, cats, birds, hamsters, mice, fish, bunnies, horses and chickens!). They were part of our family and we loved them. So, for the longest time, we’ve wanted a pet (specifically of the dog variety, a horse wouldn’t fit in our apartment!). But because of our busy lifestyle we were just not in the right space to make that commitment. Until 8 months ago…
We welcome a little Finnish Lapphund pup into our lives named Taavi – Finnish for “beloved” 🙂
He’s the sweetest little dire wolf you ever did see and we’ve become proper dog-doting parents. The experience has been transformative and having a pooch (or pet) in your life is truly enriching!
Of course, having a pet especially while trying to maintain a zero waste or less wasteful lifestyle presents its own challenges. Like any living being, dogs, cats and the like have a carbon footprint. The beauty is, humans can heavily influence the size of that carbon footprint.
For us, it’s been a bit of trial and error attempting to reduce Taavi’s paw-print. Pet’s are invariably messy creatures but thankfully with a bit of thought and planning we’ve managed to make some sizable dents towards making Taavi as environmentally friendly as pawsibble 🙂
Before we get to the tips, tricks and hacks a quick shout out from Sustainable Jungle to Shia for letting us share our zero waste dog experience (or work in progress!) with you all!
Let’s tackle the hardest part first, shall we.
Zero waste food options for hoomans are growing but for pets it isn’t yet a thing.
You can find some dog food for example in bulk at pet stores, but typically these options are limited to lower quality foods. Plus, since pet food is often bought in bulk as it is, bulk food stores are not likely to save you much on your plastic bottom line. And, many bags are made out of a paper outer and plastic liner, which won’t be recycled by many municipalities.
There are a couple of brands (Open Farm and Wellness Core) that don’t offer zero waste packaging but they do partner with Terracycle. You can order a free envelope in which to send in old dog food bags to ensure they get properly recycled. It’s not zero waste but it’s better than trashing, for sure.
In Australia, we’re lucky that Redcycle accepts Dry Pet Food Bags for recycling which is great because, while not ideal, for the moment (until we can get a better routine going), part of Taavi’s diet still consists of good old fashioned dry dog food.
Make your own zero waste pet food
This is currently the only truly zero waste way in which to feed your best friend. I know, it takes a heap of time and is not suited to everyone’s lifestyle – it’s on our own to-do list to make a more meaningful attempt at this but like anything zero wasty, it’s building the habit that’s the hard part, really.
Happly, though it may actually be easier than one might think. If your pet is a pooch, it’s just three main types of ingredients in equal parts all mixed together:
- Protein: scrap cuts can be used as they’re usually thrown away. Dogs are omnivores so they can also arguably be healthy on a vegan and vegetarian diet. Though, there doesn’t appear to have been any long term studies on the impact of these diets.
- Raw veggies
- Cooked veggies and root vegetables (such as potato, squash, and pumpkin)
Just make sure to check this list about which foods are safe for canine consumption (you’d be surprised to know that odd things like avocados and grapes are a no-go for dogs).
Bear in mind these are general guidelines. Of course, different breeds have slightly varying nutritional needs.
Raw Feeding is another popular method. However, it is predominantly meat-based, which means this diet has a large carbon footprint. But it is possible to ask your local butcher for parts that would otherwise be tossed and to bring your own container. Taavi currently gets a weekly batch of chicken necks which are purchased completely zero waste in an old tupperware (they’re also super cheap, presumably because no one wants them) .
Pet Treats for a Zero Waste Household
Treats are the best. Instead of buying packaged and potentially preservative laden options from the pet store, make your own.
There are so many recipes out there for just about (as far as we can tell) every pet. We got the ultimate pumpkin peanut butter squares recipe from Taavi’s sister’s mom (our sister in-paw?🐾) and wow does it look delicious! Disclaimer: we haven’t personally tasted it, yet!
Step 1: Preheat oven to 180ºC/ 375ºF.
Step 2: Cut 250g of pumpkin into small pieces and heat microwave for approximately 1 -2 minutes. Mash the pumpkin.
- Add the following:
1 egg and
3 tablespoons of peanut and
1 teaspoon vanilla essence.
- Mixed together.
Step 3: In a separate bowl use 2 cups (500ml) of wholemeal flour.
Step 4: Add wet ingredients to flour and hand knead into dough.
Step 5: On a baking tray roll the dough to approximately 0.5cm thickness.
Step 6: Cut the dough into square bite sized pieces. You can use cookie cutters too.
Step 7: Bake for 35 – 40 minutes in oven.
Step 8: Wait to cool and then sit back and watch Spot enjoy!
As for many other omnivore pets, whole foods are a super healthy option and completely waste free. Carrots, apples, sweet potato and the like, can just be given raw. Pro tip: if your pet loves to chew (especially pups) freeze these raw treats or mash em up into a blend. Bananas, blueberries and of course peanut butter (our usual go to recipe) is always a winner.
If you want to make the treats last use an ice cube tray and give a snack a day (or two, three..).
Another interesting idea, especially for the dog-loving booch homebrewers out there, is feeding your pup treats made from kombucha scobies. For those not in the know, kombucha scobies are made up of (beneficial) bacteria and yeast and are the ‘waste’ from every brew of kombucha. While these are compostable, why not put them to good use and embrace that circular economy?
Zeroing in on the impact of your pet’s poop is another key aspect of minimising your pet’s carbon footprint.
The absolute best method we’ve found (for when we’re at home) is the scoop n flush system. We use an old dust pan and simply scoop it in and flush it down our own toilet. Worth checking with your local municipality if this is acceptable (it seems to be acceptable in Germany, Australia and the US). Note that for cats, it’s a different story, their poop is notoriously potent and even our own sewage systems are not strong enough to exterminate some of the pathogens and parasites in them.
Composting is a wonderful tool and compostable dog bag rolls are a great option for picking up poops on the go. But, they should only be used if you intend on actually composting them. Throwing it in the trash will just add to the oxygen squeezed landfill and accelerate methane gas production. Which is exactly what we want to avoid.
Also make sure you are buying genuinely compostable bags made from something like corn starch (relevant certifications for compostability in the US are ASTM D6400 or D6868) instead of just biodegradability which could just mean that the plastic will breakdown into microplastics faster!
Alternatively, you can just do what we do when out and about and use old newspaper! This works great and both can be composted!
Stating the obvious here, but just make sure you compost the poop separate from your regular composting. Also be sure to do it only in your own yard as municipal composting systems are not generally set up to deal with poop! It’s also important the compost hits a consistently high enough temperature (around 62 degrees celsius) to kill lurking pathogens. Here’s a handy video we found on youtube which goes into a bit more detail on the subject: this how-to video. There are also a couple of composting systems (e.g. the EnsoPet in Australia) which make this a whole lot easier to get right.
As good as it sounds, we would suggest avoiding flushable dog poop bags. It seems that the dream is not quite the reality.
Toys Toys Toys!
Toys are central to a happy environment for a pet. But, as we’ve found, you need a toy strategy to ensure your being as least wasteful as possible.
Taavi, as with any puppy, chews through EVERYTHING! We have a graveyard of dead stuffed animals. Some lasted a couple of weeks others hours. Fairly brutal stuff.
We’ve now stopped buying plush toys and stick to either the tried and tested stick (renewable and free!) and also durable, chewable zero waste options!
Kong toys are a great example (this also doubles as the whole food frozen treat dispenser). Basically anything with natural rubber that’s built to last is a great option for young and old gums. Also, more and more options are popping for hemp toys (like ropes) which we’re excited to try.
If your pet is more on the gentle side by all means go for the plush toys but instead of buying new visit your local charity or thrift store, there are SO many preloved soft toys it’s ridiculous. Alternatively, try making your own out of old clothes. It’s fairly easy to twist and tie an old cotton T-shirt or pair of jeans into a rope-like toy.
Other Pet Paraphernalia
Aside from toys, food and poop disposal devices, there are heaps of other pet related products which fall somewhere on the waste spectrum.
We suggest looking for products (like water bowls, leads and collars) made out of unbreakable material like metal or ceramic or consider a truly renewable and compostable alternative, like bamboo or hemp.
As sustainable living is starting to make waves in all areas of our lives, bamboo options are popping up in this category and they are arguably the most sustainable option. Unfortunately, we only found out about this after the fact. But you can get just about any bamboo related pet product these days from collars to leashes to brushes to houses.
Final Thoughts on Zero Waste Pet Care
We hope you’ve found some helpful tips and tricks to use at home. And just remember, zero waste pet care is just an extension of our own zero waste lifestyle, not perfect but totally achievable!