9 things you need if you're an environmentally-conscious pet owner
For as great as some of us may be at making earth-friendly choices in our everyday lives, it can be a lot harder to remember to buy sustainable pet products for our dogs or cats. Yet it's crucial we do so, whenever possible. “Our pets have a huge impact on the planet, but they can’t reduce their own environmental pawprints — that’s up to us,” Stephanie Feldstein, author of The Animal Lover’s Guide to Changing the World and the population and sustainability director at the Center for Biological Diversity, tells Mic.
Pet food and accessories, in particular, can do a serious number on the earth. “As the pet industry has grown, we’ve made our dogs and cats accomplices in our overconsumption," says Feldstein. "The [more than] $70 billion-a-year [pet] industry is full of cheap plastic toys that wind up in landfills and novelty items that come at a high cost to the environment.”
Just like we do with our own consumption, it’s important to consider that cost — and how to minimize it — when buying products for our pets. To start, Feldstein says, avoid getting items your pet doesn’t really need, like extra toys and new collars. “The most sustainable choice we can make is to purchase less and invest in quality products that will last,” she explains.
In terms of the latter, be careful to avoid the pitfalls present in the animal retail industry, “from fast fashion for dogs to greenwashing claims about ‘natural’ pet products,” Feldstein says. Also, weigh each item's durability against its materials. “It’s better to buy a collar that will last for years than to buy one that’s made from recycled materials but needs to be frequently replaced,” she advises.
Beyond that, says Feldstein, “look for products with minimal packaging and minimal chemicals, and support companies with strong environmental standards throughout their supply chain.” Here are nine options, from food to toys and more, to get you started.
Subscription meal services for humans may be all the rage, but there are far fewer opportunities for pets. Enter: The Farmer’s Dog, a company that delivers human-grade, freshly-cooked meals formulated by veterinary nutritionists. Not only are the ingredients (like USDA-standard proteins) sourced from local farms and other human food suppliers and free of preservatives, but the packaging is also environmentally friendly, per the company's website. The cardboard delivery boxes are recyclable, the insulation is biodegradable (it can be composted, or dissolved with water and sent down the sink drain) and the food packs are BPA-free and non-toxic.
"As far as we know, this is the only planet with dogs on it, and we try to do everything we can to protect it,” Jonathan Regev, CEO of The Farmer’s Dog, tells Mic. “The Farmer's Dog is devoted to the health and wellness of dogs, and that is very much intertwined with the health and wellness of the Earth.” Plans start at $2/day.
It’s easy to forget that much of the food we feed our pets, particularly that in kibble form, is made from meat. But the reality is dogs and cats are major carnivores; a 2017 study found that their animal product consumption is responsible for releasing 16 million tons of greenhouse gases into the atmosphere — the equivalent of 13.6 million cars, as study author Gregory Okin told EcoWatch.
Yet while “our pets’ meat-heavy diets are the biggest contributor to their carbon pawprints," says Feldstein, "choosing organic plant-based treats is an easy way to start reducing [pets’] climate impact." She recommends Riley’s Organics, which offers a range of meat-free bones, as well as Wet Noses, which sells organic dried fruit and vegetable treats. $7-$13.
The duvet cover for this dog bed is made from washable 100% cotton canvas, but the upcycled textiles (i.e. old or discarded items transformed into something new) come from you. “Molly Mutt dog beds allow you to upcycle bedding and clothes into cozy, washable beds, keeping your old items out of landfills and avoiding the resource use associated with new products,” Feldstein explains.
Instead of using energy and resources to process filling (and then ship a full-blown dog bed), Molly Mutt sends you the cover and a washable stuff sack. Fill the mesh sack with old clothes and other textiles you would otherwise toss, put the whole thing in the cover, and — voila — you have a comfy bed for your pup. From $29.
This soft-sided pet carrier — which is sized to fit under airplane seats with dimensions approved for United Airlines, American Airlines and Delta Airlines, according to the company's website — was designed with sustainability in mind, in regards to both the product and the packaging. The memory-foam mattress includes a leak-proof base board made from plant and wood fibers, the packaging is free of any single-use plastic, and the shipping carton is made from recycled cardboard.
Plus, “we don’t design for landfill,” Mayur Bhatnagar, Arlo Skye’s co-founder and CEO, tells Mic. “Instead, we use the highest quality components so the product lasts a life[time]. For example, we use 840 Denier Nylon sourced from Korea [that’s] scratch-resistant and small dogs won’t be able to chew through it.” $250.
“Cycle Dog takes bike tubes that would otherwise wind up in landfills and turns them into colorful collars and leashes that are durable and waterproof,” Feldstein says.
The company — which started with owner Lanette Fidrych collecting tubes from bike shops and sewing collars at home — has saved hundreds of thousands of tube rubber from landfills since 2009, according to its website. And they’ve expanded beyond collars, too, offering equally eco-friendly products like travel bowls and toys from recycled materials as well. $23-$29.
The only plastic you’ll find in an Outback Tails pet toy is the recycled water bottle used as stuffing to create “fun, crunchy sounds,” as the company's website states. The outsides of the toys are made with sustainable wool and jute fibers and colored with natural vegetable dyes.
Plus, the company is a member of the Pet Sustainability Coalition, which works with organizations to educate them on and provide tools for implementing sustainability throughout their businesses. $18-$20.
Thinking about the sheer number of poop-toting plastic bags tossed into garbage cans each day can be discouraging, to say the least. But the good news is, plenty of pet companies, like Poop Bags, are wising up to the wastefulness of waste bags and offering more sustainable options. The Original Poop Bags are made from 38% bio-materials (like corn, vegetable oils and wheat stalks) and carry the ASTM D6400 rating for composting in commercial facilities.
“These bags...start as plant matter and end up...degraded back into the equivalent of dirt,” Paul Cannella, president and founder of Poop Bags, tells Mic. (Keep in mind that while plant-based bags like these may degrade in landfills, the process will take much longer than if they’re actually composted.) From $35.
It’s equally important to scoop cat waste into eco-friendly bags, which is where EcoLeo’s Cat Litter Waste Bags come in. Not only are they far more durable than the plastic grocery bags that often get used when throwing out litter, but the material is also corn-based, BPA-free and certified compostable by ASTM D6400 standards, per the website. From $17.
As the National Resources Defense Council notes on its website, many cat litters are made from a type of clay that’s mined in a “highly destructive and enormously inefficient” manner. Naturally Fresh’s products, on the other hand, are made from a food byproduct that would otherwise go to waste: walnut shells. The natural litter receives consistently high ratings from cat owners; but there are plenty of solid alternate options — like corn-based World’s Best Cat Litter and wheat-based sWheat Scoop — you can try as well.