While many of us go to great lengths to decrease our own carbon emissions by recycling, taking transit and buying organic fruits and veggies, few pet owners consider the enormous “carbon paw print” their companion animal leaves on the environment.
Researchers in the UK recently found that the average medium-sized dog has a carbon footprint roughly twice the size of an SUV driven 10,000 kilometres a year. Cats weren’t much better, occupying the same footprint as a small Volkswagen.
Between their meaty diets and the poop they leave behind, pets are big polluters. There’s also all the treats, bedding, clothes, toys and supplies we lavish on them. Thankfully, there are easy ways to make your Fido’s life a little more eco-friendly. The following tips are from my new book, ‘Greening Your Pet Care,’ which provides simple everyday steps to lower your pet’s carbon footprint for the sake of their health and well-being – and the future of our planet.
1. Scoop the poop
A staggering amount of dog waste is created each year, with at least 97,000 tonnes left in Metro Vancouver parks alone. It’s a massive environmental issue if it’s not cleaned up. The bacteria in feces leaches into the ground and water sources, contaminating lakes and rivers, drinking water sources, and hurts fish and other marine life.
The solution, however, is simple: Clean that sh*t up. Contrary to conventional wisdom, rain doesn’t actually wash it away, so the environmentally-friendly solution is always to scoop the poop.
Conventional plastic grocery bags take anywhere from 10 to 1,000 years to break down in a landfill, so opt for a “greener” option – like biodegradable or compostable pet waste bags. These break down exponentially faster. Look for bags that are naturally scented and created from non-GMO crops like tapioca and corn. Many brands, including Vancouver’s Earth Rated, are sold at pet and big box stores. Look for bag canisters made of #5 plastic that can be recycled
2. Don’t feed beef
Producing meat for pet food consumes vast amounts of land, water and resources, and cattle production is the most polluting and environmentally-draining of them all. Lamb is a close second. The UN estimates livestock production is responsible for 18% of all CO2 emissions worldwide.
Instead of choosing beef-based kibble or wet food, switch to a food that’s primary protein is something with a smaller carbon footprint, like chicken, turkey, sheep or sustainably-harvested fish. The same goes for treats: look for grain, cereal or fish-based treats instead of those sourced with beef.
Making slight changes in your pet’s diet will go a long way to reduce how much they contribute to greenhouse gas emissions. With more than $23-billion spent on pet food in North America alone last year, your individual choice can add up to a big difference.
3. Ditch the plastic
Tonnes of pet products made from plastics end up being trashed in the landfill each year. These non-renewable materials can also be a danger to the health of you and your pet. Inexpensive plastic pet products, including toys, beds, feeding dishes and clothes, can contain polyvinyl chloride (PVC), a chemical classified as a human carcinogen and a danger to animal health by the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency.
For feeding bowls, opt for stainless steel, which is long lasting and durable. Look for toys and products made from natural and sustainable materials: think organic cotton, bamboo, hemp and untreated wood and wicker. Items made from canvas and natural rubber are sustainable and tough, reducing the odds your pup will destroy it.
There are many great North American manufacturers making great strides to divert plastic from our landfills by creating stylish and eco-friendly pet products, including beds and plush toys, using recycled plastic water bottles.
4. Go natural for chew toys
Plastic chew toys are great to keep your pups entertained and occupied, letting them satisfy their natural desire to chomp without destroying your shoes or furniture. But if you’ve ever watched a dog rip one apart, you’ll agree most end up in the trash after being destroyed. And plasticy products like Nylabone can create dangerous intestinal blockages if large pieces are ingested.
Opt for a tougher and longer-lasting “green” chew. Made from natural rubber, Kongs are a great eco-friendly solution for even the heartiest chewers in your life, and come in a variety of sizes. They’re also great stuffed with peanut butter and treats, to use for crate training puppies and reducing separation anxiety in nervous dogs.
Antlers are another eco-friendly chew. Unlike rawhides that are frequently sprayed with chemicals like arsenic and formaldehyde during production, antlers are naturally-shed from animals like deer and elk, and are free of preservatives and additives. They also give your dog’s teeth a great cleaning: As your pup grinds down the antler to get more marrow, it massages their gums and cracks away plaque and tartar. Another green alternative is getting some discarded raw bones from your local butcher.
5. Go green for grooming
The chemicals, synthetic colours and fragrances added to most dog shampoos, conditioners and grooming products can contain pesticides and suspected carcinogens. These can cause major skin irritation for your pup, including redness, painful hot spots, itchiness and rashes. These chemicals also hurt local waterways when they’re flushed down the drain.
Seek out formulations that are biodegradable, free of parabens and synthetic fragrances, and use organic ingredients wherever possible. Avoid what I call the “foul four’: DEA (diethanolamine), SLS (sodium laureth), BHA (butylated hydroxyanisole), and synthetic colours and fragrances.
Black Sheep Organics makes a lovely line of naturally-scented products that work hard without putting your pet’s health — and the environment — at risk.
BONUS: Adopt, don’t shop
A staggering 2.7 million companion animals are euthanized each year in North American shelters, so by adopting you are saving that pet from death, while freeing up space for another one to be taken in. Think of adopting as “the ultimate recycling.”
One of the biggest misconceptions is that there are only mutts and old pets in shelter: the Humane Society says a full 25% of the shelter population are purebred.
Start your pet search on Petfinder.com, used by North American animal shelters and rescues. If you have your heart set on a certain breed, reach out to breed-specific rescues in your area. These groups are focused on re-homing unwanted, abandoned and homeless pets of a particular pure breed.
My new book, Greening Your Pet Care, is full of great tips and tricks to lower your pet’s carbon paw print for the sake of your furry friend — and the planet.