So, you love animals and you want to be responsible because you love the environment? Maybe you have children or grandchildren and you want them to be able to enjoy the things you have enjoyed? You have studied the science and realize that pollution and climate change are both real crises that we are facing. That is me. I am a grandmother and I love hiking and camping. I love pristine beaches and watching seals and sea lions basking in the sun at the local beaches. I want my grandchildren to be able to enjoy these things too. I want to do my part to clean up the mess we have made as a society. This article is not for people that think climate change is not real. It is real and we are running out of time to limit the damage. This is a scientific fact.
You would think that loving animals and having them in your home would not conflict with being environmentally responsible. But, the pet industry creates a lot of waste. A LOT - pet food containers, plastic single-use poo bags, flea and tick plastic pill containers, dog toys, collars, leashes, brushes, shampoos. Much of it made cheaply out of non-biodegradable or non-recyclable plastics or packaged in even more plastic.
For anybody that has tried to go zero waste, you know it is nearly impossible in most locations. So, the goal here is less waste. Let’s start with doing what we can and striving to do more and more after we have changed some basic habits. Where to start? Wherever you can! By being mindful before you make a purchase, you can make a huge difference. The first step to lessen your waste is to think before you buy. There are four basic principles of reducing waste. These principles apply to everything you use in your daily life. Let’s look at how they can apply to pet care and I’ll even add a couple bonus tips that apply just for dogs.
Refuse buying unnecessary extras. According to recent figures reported by the APPA (American Pet Products Association), the pet care industry sold over $75 billion last year. This number has increased yearly since 1994 (as far back as their records were referenced). How many leashes and collars does your dog need? Do they have a bed in every room but really prefer your lap or being next to you on the couch? Many of the toys are cheaply made and end up in landfills very quickly after they are broken or chewed. Manufacturing these items causes a great deal of waste also. The first thing to do is to not buy things that you don’t need. Try to buy things made out of biodegradable or recyclable materials. Keep in mind that recent news has reported that only 10% of what we sort for recycling and put in recycling bins actually gets recycled. So, refusing to bring these things home in the first place is a huge help. Look for brushes and toothbrushes with bamboo handles instead of plastic. Vote for change with your wallet. It is our most powerful vote. Corporate lobbyists are powerful and massive. The only way the little guy can beat them is with consumer purchasing trends. That is every one of us. If we stop buying this stuff, they will stop making it and they will scramble to find something that we WILL buy. I saw a recent video showing how to fold poo bags out of newspaper and magazine pages. Would you try something like that? Most poo bags that are marketed as biodegradable are not actually going to decompose because of the lack of air circulation at landfills. Better technology is needed. The marketing is misleading. If your dog potties in your backyard, the waste can be easily scooped into a paper sack or composted. Pet waste compost takes longer to decompose completely than kitchen and garden scraps. It is recommended that it is composted separately for this reason and it is not advised that you use the compost in your vegetable gardens unless you have thoroughly researched the steps you need to take to do it safely.
Reduce Can you buy fewer things? Do you have a puppy? Can you ask friends and family if they have dog beds, collars, or leashes leftover from when their dogs were smaller? Are there natural alternatives that you can use for dog shampoo and conditioner? Does your dog need a different outfit for each day of the week? No judgement here. The outfits they make these days are super adorable. It is just something to think about. Try to buy food and treats in bulk whenever available. If you have the time, knowledge, and budget, making dog food and treats at home will greatly reduce packaging. Buy higher quality toys that will last longer. And, of course, get outside with your dog. Even older dogs and little dogs that can’t run very far love getting out with their favorite person and smelling the grass and bushes. Dogs are happy to roll in the grass. Look for collars and leashes made from natural fibers like cotton or hemp. Or metal chains that can be recycled.
Reuse What to do with the extra dog beds, toys, leashes, collars? Please consider donating these to a local rescue or shelter. Other items that are always in short supply at shelters are towels and blankets. These items are in very short supply at most rescue organization.
RecycleIf you are purchasing food and treats, watch for recyclable packaging. Buy larger containers. Avoid single use packaging. Taking the time to recycle plastic containers, tin food cans and cardboard is still worth it. Many items that are sorted for recycling are rejected because they have food waste still in them. Something as simple as rinsing tin cans prior to recycling can increase the chances that the items will actually be recycled. Most people are unaware of this simple and necessary step for recycling. Hopefully as new innovations and technologies emerge, recycling will become more effective. But, just because it is hard or tedious, doesn’t mean we shouldn’t even try.
Spay and Neuter Too many animals are still being euthanized each year due to overcrowded shelters and owner remorse surrenders. Spaying and neutering also prevents many forms of cancer in dogs in addition to reducing the number of dogs that need to be fed, sheltered, and re-homed.
Adopt Adopting a shelter dog will save that dogs life. Is there a better reason to adopt? I don’t know of one.
Maintain healthy pets Healthy dogs need less medicine, they don’t need insulin injections and the vials and needles that come with them. They eat less food and fewer treats which over the lifetime of the pet is a lot less packaging.
I hope this gave you some ideas to get started reducing waste around the house with your dogs. It isn’t the number of toys that makes your dog happy. It is the time spent playing with you that really does it for them.