If you have a lovable furry friend in your home, then you know it’s like having another family member to care for. Pets bring so much joy and comfort to us. Raising a pet requires a tremendous deal of work. It’s also important to note that, like humans, pets can have a large ecological footprint depending on the choices we make.
According to the National Pet Owners Survey conducted by the American Pet Products Association (APPA), 70% of U.S. households—or about 90.5 million families—own a pet. Between feeding, housing, grooming, playing, and cleaning up after their mess, all of the plastic we use can surely add up! However, if we are mindful about choosing plastic-free options when caring for our pets, we can really make a difference to reduce our impact on the environment. No matter what type of pet you have, you can ditch the plastic waste and have a plastic-free pet by trying these tricks.
Like our food, the major issue is all of that plastic packaging. You can cut down on plastic by purchasing in bulk. There are stores where you can choose pet food from a canister that you can carry home in your own cloth bag or glass or stainless steel container. Another option is to look for pet food packaged in a paper or compostable bag. It’s especially important to avoid the individual serving pouches made out of plastic. These have become quite popular, and with people rarely recycling them, billions end up in landfills each year.
If you are up for a challenge, try making your own pet food at home to minimize packaging waste. You can buy grains like rice in bulk and vegetables without plastic bags. Meats, poultry, and fish can also be purchased minus plastic wrapping. Either look for a store that uses paper for packaging or bring your own glass or stainless steel containers from home. You can find lots of pet food recipes online to guide you. In order to make sure you are providing your pet with the correct nutrition in their treats, please consult with your veterinarian.
Finally, how we serve our pets food can lead to plastic use. Typical pet bowls are plastic. But you can choose alternatives like stainless steel or ceramic bowls for both food and water. There are even bowls made out of bamboo or rice husks on the market now. If you need to transport your pet’s food, try using a tiffin that contains multiple compartments and a carrying handle. If you prefer a plastic bowl, consider choosing used ones for your pets.
As pet owners, we can’t escape the clean up involved. Unfortunately, this clean-up process typically requires a lot of plastic. Many pet owners average one or two plastic bags a day to dispose of pet waste, which means several hundred bags per year! This is an area where you can certainly make a huge impact by shifting to more eco-friendly options.
Choosing the safest option that is also best for the environment is a bit tricky, however. For dog waste, your best options are to use a composting pet waste toilet, flushing waste down your toilet, using a pet waste collection service, or taking it to a pet waste composting depot if you have one in your area.
However flush pet waste can create some problems. According to Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC), “While some cities have water treatment plants that cleanse the water, not all programs are designed to screen out some of the things that are contained in dog or cat poop.” Be sure to check with your local municipal waste office for more information. Additionally, NRDC warns pet owners to never flush cat waste down the toilet because it can contain parasites living in the feces that can end up in waterways and harm people and wildlife. Your best bet with cats is to dispose of litter in the garbage.
For transporting waste from your neighborhood walk to your home, paper bags are the top option, with 100 percent compostable or biodegradable bags as a close second. Just be careful which bags you buy because some do not break down in the landfill unless they have the right environmental conditions. You can also use a container with a lid and carrying handle made out of something besides plastic. When back home, just flush it down the toilet. Although you will need to wash the container after each use, it eliminates the needs for plastic bags.
Finally, if you have other pets like rabbits, hamsters, or guinea pigs, the straw or sawdust along with the waste can go directly into in your compost.
Plastic-free Pet Playtime
When you think about pet toys, you probably envision something cute and squishy made out of plastic. This is what we want to avoid moving forward. Besides damaging our environment, these plastic pet toys can harm our pets since many of them contain toxic chemicals like BPA. Here are some ways you can still be playful with your pet without all the plastic:
- Purchase toys made out of natural materials like organic cotton, hemp, rope, natural rubber, canvas, wood, bamboo, or wool.
- Make your own non-plastic pet toys, such as by cutting strips of old t-shirts and braiding them into a small rope toy. Look for more ideas online.
- Use some basic items lying around the house as toys, such as a ball of foil in a cardboard box.
Finally, when you take your dog out for a walk to the park, be sure to use a non-plastic leash. You can now find dog collars and leashes made from hemp or recycled materials.
Cat and dog beds can also be dripping in plastic—from what they are made out of to their plastic wrap. Consider making your own snuggly spot for your pet by getting creative. One idea is to transform an old suitcase, worn out pillows, and a bed sheet into a pet bed. You can also use a basket, crate, drawer from a broken piece of furniture, or even an old wagon. One innovative entrepreneur is upcycling old tires by painting them bright colors to create adorable pet beds.
We have to keep our pets looking clean and tidy, but let’s try to do it without plastic materials with these simple tips:
- Choose grooming brushes made from wood with natural bristles.
- Opt for pet shampoos not sold in plastic containers or buy special pet shampoo bars.
- Avoid using those rollers for hair removal because they are made out of plastic that just get tossed in the trash. Instead, try using a rubber glove. Dampen a rubber glove and run your hand over the surface of your furniture to attract the hair. The wet glove gently lifts fur and causes it to stick to it. All you have to do is rinse off the glove when it’s covered and repeat as needed. Also, reduce the amount of hair your pet sheds by brushing regularly.