PLASTIC-FREE (ISH) PETS
OK, let's start by addressing the elephant/cat/dog/hamster in the room...
Owning a pet is not in itself a sustainable thing to do. A book written by some sustainable living peeps in New Zealand in 2009 suggested that a medium sized dog has the ecological 'pawprint' equivalent to twice that of an average SUV (think people-carrier). Now I'm not sure how robust the science is on that one, but I think it's still worth bearing in mind that our pets create their own emissions (not just the smelly ones!) and that by making different choices we can limit their 'paw print'.
Having said that, owning a pet by and large brings happiness, laughter, and adds to the quality of our lives - sustainable(ish) isn't about depriving ourselves that bring us joy, it's about making the best choices we can and living the best lives we can whilst looking after the future of the planet.
Here are some tips for plastic-free(ish) pets to help you to do just that!
We've all got to eat, and pets are no different.
While at first glance it might appear impossible to find food that isn't encased in plastic, it's easier than it might seem:
- Buy tins not pouches
The pouches of food are great in terms of "food waste" but the pouches are nigh on impossible to recycle and destined for landfill.
Tins are a great plastic-free alternative - some brands do half sized tins if you need smaller portions, and get yourself one of those re-usable tin cap things to keep it fresh in the fridge. The little individual aluminium trays are another good option if you have a very pampered pet!
- Avoid the plastic sacks of dry food
Once upon a time dry pet food came in paper sacks, or in cardboard boxes, but now they all seem to come in overly robust thick plastic bags (I'm sure this has something to do with customers perception of value rather than an actual need).
Some brands do still sell their food in paper bags, so keep your eyes peeled, and the good news is that pet food companies are cottoning onto the demand for plastic-free alternatives - Lily's Kitchen and Beco both now have entirely home-compostable packaging on their dry food which will happily degrade on your compost heap.
- Buy loose
Some pet shops (especially the good old-fashioned independent ones) will still have loose food that you can buy in your own bags - everything from dog biscuits to bird food, to rabbit pellets.
- Make your own
The very dedicated may choose to make their own.
Bear in mind though that pet food companies spend millions on nutritionists and on formulating pet food so that it has the right balance of all the things (technical term) your pet needs. Matching up to this with a home-made diet requires a lot of research, and whilst I think it's kind of do-able to make your own dog food, I would never recommend trying for cats (with my ex-vets hat on) as they have a requirement for taurine, and it can be tricky to get the balance right.
Check out places like Pinterest for a wealth of home-made recipes, but as I say, do your research first, and maybe run it past your vet.
It's unavoidable. Pet's make poo. And we have to deal with it.
Here are some plastic-free(ish) options:
- If you've got rabbits/hamsters/guinea pigs etc, the straw/sawdust and poo can go in your compost heap quite safely.
However if you've got dogs and cats you shouldn't compost their poo!
- Wood based cat litters work well, and keep your eye out for cat litter in paper bags.
As far as I'm aware the only thing you can safely do with cat poo and contaminated litter is bag it up and put it in your landfill bin - a good excuse to encourage your cat to go outside (although don't tell your neighbour with the prize flower beds that I said that!)
- Poo bags
Sadly, despite being labelled 'bio-degradable' most poo bags simply won't break down in landfill as they don't have the right conditions. So they sit there and act like any other plastic.
Lily's Kitchen recently launched a new '100% compostable' poo bag, which looks promising. Although you can't compost dog poo, it does mean that it the bag should break down pretty quickly in landfill, which is good news.
Other options for disposing of dog poo, which I have heard varying reports of include
- dog poo wormery - try this one here or this one here. These ones are quite pricey though - Lindsey at Treading my Own Path has made her own.
- specific dog poo mini compost thing
- doggy bog - flushing dog poo seems to be a controversial subject. Some things I've read have said it's fine, other people are horrified. Check with your local water board if you want to be sure!
As with food, pet treats now seem to all come encased in plastic. Here are some alternatives:
- Buy loose
We've got a great old-fashioned independent pet shop near us that has big boxes of treats that you can buy loose in your own bags. Some of the chains are also starting to sell 'pick and mix' style dog treats too.
- Make your own
If you've got a dehydrator you can dehydrate liver into little treats, or some dogs (and rabbits etc!) love nothing better than a carrot stick! If you've got a very foody dog, just 'treat' them with their regular biscuits taken out of their daily allowance so you don't end up with a fat pooch on your hands.
Pinterest is over-flowing with all kinds of recipes for homemade pet treats - you can even get bone shaped cookie cutters to make biscuits...
See what you can find second-hand. Bowls, beds, crates, even leads can be picked up secondhand - check out your local charity shops (the pet charity shops seem to do quite a good line in secondhand pet stuff, perhaps unsurprisingly!) or post a WANTED in your local Freecycle/Feegle group.
If you're buying new, buy to last.
Metal and ceramic bowls will last longer and age better than plastic (as long as you don't drop them...). You can also get 'eco bowls' made from bamboo and rice husks from Beco which might be worth looking at.
And buy ethical - there are some amazing ethically made collars and leads out there - I love these ones from Koko Collective, ethically made in India from old bike inner tubes and discarded saris!
When it comes to beds, think about how often you might need to wash it.
There are lots of beds and blankets now made from recycled plastic bottles, which sounds great, but unfortunately each time you wash them, they will release microfibres of plastic into the waterways.
For toys, again you can buy 'eco' toys' which are often stuffed with recycled plastic bottles, but these tend to pose less of a microfibre risk although that depends on how fanatical you are about washing your pet toys (I am not.)
Remember with pets that less is often more. Cats love a good old ball of scrunched up foil, or better yet, a scrunched up ball of foil in a cardboard box..! And for dogs you can make great pull toys by plaiting old bits of fabric together.
5. PAMPURRING YOUR PETS
I'm not a big fan of the excessively groomed look and have a suitably scruffy mutt as testament to this. However she does love a good old roll in whatever poo she can find on walks - the smellier the better.
Instead of reaching for the plastic bottles of designer looking pet shampoos, see if you can find a bar soap. Yes, you can buy special pet shampoo bars, or just find a mild baby soap and use that.
Parasite wise, I know that some people swear by the use of garlic or garlic powder as a flea treatment or deterrent, and if that works for you, then that's fab and an easy plastic-free solution, but bear in mind that in high doses garlic is toxic for dogs, and GARLIC SHOULD NEVER BE FED TO CATS!!
It can be hard to find a licensed flea and worm treatment plastic free - the best plastic-free(ish) option I've found so far is Bravecto - available as a tablet for dogs and a spot-on for cats. Still in plastic BUT it gives you 12 weeks worth of treatment in one go vs only 4 weeks for other licensed alternatives.