How-To

3 tips for being a more sustainable pet parent

Talia Vicars
3 tips for being a more sustainable pet parent

We’re always keeping an eye out for how our purchases impact people and the planet… but what about when it comes to our furry friends? For National Pet Day, we’re putting all the paws on the table about what to know about our cats' and dogs' toys, food, other must-haves, and, of course, what to do with dog poop and that infamous poop bag.

#1 DIY your pet’s toys

#2 Pick up your pooch’s poop and flush it

#3 One person’s food waste is another pet’s food gold

Want more information on why? Read on for why and how to treat your pets like the royalty they are, with the planet in mind, too. 

#1 DIY your pet’s toys

Dog toys are one of the fastest-growing segments in the pet toy market, accounting for 75% of sales in 2016. This translates to a market share of roughly $1 billion. That’s no surprise given our constant need to replace these toys. The unfortunate reality is that pet toys are often created to be disposable – many are not particularly durable and our pets can (and are often encouraged to) chew and tear right through them. As pet parents, we’re all too familiar with a new toy being destroyed in only a few days (or even minutes!). The constant need to purchase new toys means the continuation of the purchase-disposal cycle of pet toys… which, in turn, has some serious environmental impacts. 

An LCA evaluating the environmental impact of pet toys found that the largest impact comes from the extraction of raw materials… which then ultimately end up in landfills. This includes rubber, PVC, and polyester to create the fluffy insulation on the inside of toys many of us are familiar with finding all over the floor post toy massacre or what makes the toys squeak.

Rubber is a popular porous material used to make pet toys because of its flexible qualities and low cost. But, it’s not all positive with rubber. The recent increased demand for rubber is driving industrial-scale, mono-cultured rubber production that is projected to have drastic negative impacts on tropic biodiversity and forest ecosystems, especially in Southeast Asia and Southwest China.

Polyester is part of the textile industry, which causes pollution of air, land, and water, leading to the disastrous effects of climate change, including the warming of the planet, acid rain, and breathing difficulties. As for if our pets consume it…well, it’s linked to cancer.

Polyvinyl Chloride, or PVC, is a plastic that can degrade into microplastics, which we know is a huge no-no. Due to their small size, microplastics can physically enter the bloodstream, and if they get small enough, they can even penetrate and enter the cells in your body. Plastics can carry and release nasty chemicals like BPA and brominated flame retardants, which can act as endocrine disruptors.

It doesn’t stop there. Many pet toys contain harmful materials like phthalates – both rubber and PVC can contain this set of chemicals. Phthalates make plastic more durable, soft, and flexible, which is why they’re often found in many familiar products, from garden hoses to pet toys. They’re also associated with developmental abnormalities and disruptions in both human female reproductive health (including endometriosis) and male reproductive health. It’s hard to know how much exposure to phthalates humans experience by handling their pets’ toys, but it’s the safest bet for both your (and your pet’s!) health to keep them out of your home.  

So, how can we disrupt this? Save those dollar bills by making your own pet toys using old clothes tied into knots for a tug-of-war toy or re-stuffing toys with old clothes. This helps us keep both clothes and toys in use. An added bonus? A saliva test found that when dogs are left in a room with their owner’s clothes, they show decreased cortisol levels – aka stress hormones.

#2 Pick up your pooch’s poop and flush it

While picking up after your furry friend is not the most fun part of being a pet parent, it’s a reality all of us dog parents live with. 

When you think of all the dogs in the country, it’s a lot of dookie. According to a recent study, the amount of dog poop created annually in the United States could fill up 267,500 tractor-trailers, which is roughly 10 million tons. When disposed of improperly, all this poop can have some pretty devastating impacts on the environment.

Dog poop, like other kinds of animal waste, can cause algae bloom in local waterways because it’s high in phosphorus and nitrogen. While it might sound beautiful, algae bloom is a result of eutrophication and can be harmful to aquatic life, and can contaminate drinking sources. And, when these algae eventually begin to decompose, they can create “Dead Zones” in bodies of water, meaning that these areas cannot support aquatic life, like fish. 

So…what do you do with that dookie instead of putting it in the trash? According to the EPA, the most sustainable thing to do with your dog poop is to flush it down the toilet. Like human waste, municipal water treatment facilities are equipped to process water with fecal matter in it (aka poop). Not sure with what to scoop your dog's poop (because you’re definitely not raw dogging it)? Consider reusable scoops or bags…if you’re down to clean up after your pooch in a more intimate way.

#3 One man’s food waste is another pet’s food gold

Pet food, like all foods, has an associated environmental impact depending on how it’s packaged and the kind of ingredients that go into it. While we don’t rate foods yet with our Finch Chrome extension (even those to feed our four-legged companions), we have done a little research into some more sustainable options. 

A recent study on the environmental impacts of pet food consumption, specifically dogs and cats, found that the production of pet food constitutes roughly 40% of the carbon dioxide emissions associated with domestic meat consumption. One way we can reduce these impacts is by repurposing human food waste, destined for processing or landfill.

According to one study, the production of pet food using packaged food waste had significantly lower environmental impacts than traditional pet food processes. In fact, repurposed food waste had a 56% lower impact in terms of global warming potential (GWP), 22% in terms of water consumption, and a whopping 87.5% in terms of land use. While it might sound grisly, slaughtering by-products (the animal products not consumed by humans but still created by the factory farming industry) would result in waste if our pets didn’t eat them.

This isn’t anything new – several East Asian countries have introduced ways to safely recycle food waste into animal feed over the past two decades. Even in comparison to exciting lower-emissions processes, like anaerobic digestion and composting, feed production from food waste has the lowest environmental impact. 

When it comes to packaging, dehydrated food is a less processed (and more sustainable!) option than a traditional kibble diet. Dehydrated pet food often comes in an 8 to 9-pound bag… but will make about roughly 30 - 35 pounds of actual food. Kibble, on the other hand, means there’s the same amount of actual food as comes in the bag. This means that the emissions associated with the transportation of dehydrated pet food are significantly less than that of kibble, with more bang for your buck.