Meet Nora: our super-adorable, cuddly, needy, sweet, adopted pup. We think she’s about 5 years old and we’ve had her for just over 2.5 years. She was trained as an Emotional Support Animal for her previous owner and is probably the most gentle dog I’ve ever met. Also I think she may be the perfect ESA because she can never get enough attention. 😉
Like any of us in this world, Nora creates waste simply by existing — and some of that is unavoidable. However, as the owners responsible for her waste, we have made many efforts to reduce that amount.
I recently interviewed the Member Services Manager of the Pet Sustainability Coalition, Melissa Bauer. This coalition strives to build a collaborative pet industry. All their partnered businesses have sustainable environmental and social practices. The PSC actively works to “educate, inspire, and accelerate” the pet industry toward sustainability.
Since Melissa (and the PSC) works specifically with businesses, I wanted to know how we, as the consumers, could support. What could we do in our daily practices with our own furry friends to help? Boy, did she deliver! Below are three categories we covered in our interview about living zero waste with pets. At the end of this post, I also included some extra information based on further research and my own experiences.
Top 3 Categories For Living Zero Waste With Pets
At the beginning of our interview, Melissa shared the top three categories of waste within the pet industry: disposable toys, bags, and physical waste. The “bags” category encompasses bags thrown into the trash from pet food, litter, feces, etc. 3,000 lbs of bags go to the landfill per month from pet waste! That’s overwhelming for me to even think about. So, to cover each of these categories, I’ll share what I learned from Melissa below regarding Food, Physical Waste, and Toys.
Melissa shared that “⅕ of all the protein consumed in the world is consumed by cats or dogs in the USA!” (source) As humans, we can choose whether or not we will consume meat and other animal products. Our furry friends, however, have historically shown they thrive best as carnivores. Cats definitely cannot eat plant-based and maintain optimum health. There is currently much research being done regarding dogs and plant-based diets, but so far the results are controversial.
The biggest environmental impact when it comes to pet food is based on the kind of protein you’re feeding them. Our pets don’t need to be fed “human-grade” protein. It’s also more environmentally friendly to use every piece of the animal meat.
When choosing pet food, Melissa advises to be mindful of which proteins are worse for the environment. Beef and lamb are statistically the worst in their environmental impact. Fish, chicken, and turkey are better. Crickets/insects are also a non-traditional form of protein, more environmentally friendly, and our pets benefit from eating the exoskeletons. (learn more here)
In regards to pet food packaging, Melissa encourages looking into brands that are doing environmentally responsible things. For example, Terracycle has contracted with many pet food brands to recycle or upcycle their packaging. Some pet companies are putting their packaging into “store take-back programs” for recycling. This is currently more popular with dog treats but beginning to happen for pet food in general. Look for information about this on the outside of your pet food bags! OR ask your local pet stores about similar programs.
Melissa also shared that putting clean cans from canned pet food into your curbside recycling will likely stay within Colorado. These will be recycled for sure. Aluminum and steel/tin cans are easily recyclable and sustainable options.
The brand that Melissa personally uses for her pets is a local brand from Boulder, CO: I And Love And You. She could not say enough great things about this company!
Check out my additional thoughts at the end on living zero waste with pets and their food.
A popular option on the shelves these days, hiding behind “greenwashing” advertising, is using biodegradable bags for disposing of dog poop. These are actually really bad for the environment! In fact, many states are now banning or have already banned the use of terms such as “biodegradable” and “degradable” on packaging due to their misleading nature. These bags technically will biodegrade — in a VERY long time and into microplastics, not compost!
Melissa shared that these so-called “biodegradable” bags are no better than using “plastic King Soopers bags”. In that case, you might as well use those since they’re free.
BUT, thankfully there are much better options out there! If you’re going to buy bags for pet waste disposal, make sure to purchase certified “compostable” bags. NOT “biodegradable”. The bags that are certifiably compostable in an industrial facility or your backyard compost pile are made with natural materials. They will, therefore, break down into organic material once more. (to learn more about the difference, click here.)
If you are using compostable bags, they best serve their purpose when disposed into a pet waste compost pile. If you throw them into your normal “trash”, they are better for the environment than plastic… But they will just end up rotting in a landfill. They will not decompose as they would in an actual compost pile, back into the earth.
Let’s talk about composting pet waste, then! Melissa shared that buying your own pet waste composter is not cheap, and it’s also more dangerous. If you don’t maintain a high enough temperature within your pet waste compost pile, parasites will not be killed off. For this reason, pet waste should never be composted with your normal compost pile, and it should never be used within gardens producing vegetation for future consumption. You can definitely DIY your pet waste compost, but be sure to research specific guidelines for the protection of your health.
At the time of this interview, there are only 2 pet waste composting companies in all of North America… and one of them happens to be in Colorado!
EnviroWagg is a Colorado business and they have partnered with Pet Scoop to transport your pet waste and compost it. Then it is given to state parks! Pet Scoop provides a pet waste bucket, lined with a compostable bag. You can then shovel your pet waste into it and close the lid. If you’re collecting dog poop while on a walk, you can use a compostable bag (or even newspaper) and add that into the bucket, too! The waste is collected weekly by Pet Scoop. They replace the liner to keep the bucket clean, and you’re all set for another week. Here’s a bit more info on the program:
Pet Scoop is transporting dog waste from sites in the Greater Denver and Boulder areas to EnviroWagg’s composting site at Soil Rejuvenation in Longmont. If you would like to discuss collection and composting services for your household, park or facility pet waste, contact Pet Scoop at 303-781-7667.
I personally began using this service after my interview with Melissa and have been so happy with the results! The staff is friendly and efficient, and I feel so much better knowing that our pet waste isn’t rotting in a landfill anymore. OH! And even though the Pet Scoop site looks like it only features dogs, I called them and clarified that THEY DO accept cat waste and used litter (as long as it’s all natural, not clay-based).
Check out my additional thoughts at the end on living zero waste with pets and their physical waste.
Melissa had quite a few companies she would recommend for more sustainable pet toys! For example, West Paw (a certified B Corporation in Montana) allows you to ship worn out toys back to them. They will then repair and/or use the materials to make new toys! PetCo is currently looking into these types of programs and there are other companies with similar practices.
Planet Dog is a Denver-based company working to make pet toys out of sustainable material (e.g. hemp, recycled fleece, cork scraps, bamboo, and other recycled materials). KONG is also a local company in Colorado and is about to become the first pet company to sign on to a sustainably sourced rubber for their toys!
Obviously, the best way to be zero waste with pets and their toys is to simply repurpose other items as toys (safely). Be sure to check out my additional thoughts on that note at the end of this blog post.
One Last Tip From Melissa
At the end of our interview, Melissa wanted to emphasize that in the pet industry, the “big guys” are not always the “bad guys”. Nestle and Mars, for example, keep trying to launch sustainable pet brands. However, they don’t get much support. Melissa shared how important it is to support brands that are doing good work as consumers, and to demand more.
My Own Side Notes
Repurposing Toys: Cardboard “toys” provide easy entertainment for cats and are typically compostable. Even something as simple as the tube from a roll of toilet paper!
Zero Waste Pet Food: check for dried pet food in bulk bins. Some stores with a bulk bin section will have this, and specific pet stores do, too. Check out the Zero Waste Home Bulk Finder to look in your area!
Last Thoughts on Physical Waste: I love following Colleen Patrick-Goudreau for great tips on living sustainably. These tips were from a podcast I heard through her platform, The Joyful Vegan:
- You can use a large stainless steel steam pan (for commercial kitchens) in place of a litter box — doesn’t absorb odors, easy to clean
- You can also use a stainless steel scoop/skimmer in place of plastic
- Clay litter is not biodegradable, causes respiratory issues in cats and humans, and is unsustainable in the mining process. Instead, opt to use something like Okocat Litter — biodegradable, no toxic chemicals, made from reclaimed wood, doesn’t contribute to cutting down trees, ends up costing about the same or less because it lasts longer and is more absorbent than clay-based
- Cat feces can contain parasites that cause toxoplasmosis and these parasites can survive in the environment for up to a year (once excreted). You can prevent this by keeping cats indoors and never letting them eat raw meat. You can also get them tested and there is treatment for it.
If you’re going to be on the “super zero waste with pets level” and you’re committed to scooping your pet’s poop and flushing it down the toilet… do this with your dog’s feces first and make sure your cat is not a carrier of this parasite before flushing theirs. 😉
So There You Have It!
I was so thankful for the time Melissa spent talking with me and for all the great information she shared. Hopefully you found many beneficial resources and things to look into! Kevin and I have already been reducing the amount of waste in our home from our dog, but these tips helped to step up our game. I’ll be uploading a video on my Patreon site this week with a “Behind the Scenes” look into our zero waste life with Nora! Be sure to check that out, along with all the perks that come with being a patron of That Minimal Life!
Feel free to reach out if you have any questions or want to share success stories of your own on living zero waste with pets — I’d love to hear!