Zero-Waste Tips for Pet Owners: Simple ways to love an eco-friendly dog or cat

Zero Waste Tips for Pet Owners

Earlier this month, I wrote about where we are in 2021 after the *ahem* legacy of 2020. You can find that post here. While it was a terrible, horrible, no good, very bad year for many reasons and for many people, the reality is that it wasn’t so bad for the environment. So, how do we keep that positive momentum going?

We all know it’s not practical or reasonable to stay home forever. Instead, we need to shift our attention to taking regular action to mitigate our impact on the environment–without having to shelter in place forever.

The flip side of that, radical action that upends your lifestyle isn’t necessary either, despite what a lot of “zero wasters” claim. I want you to feel pride, not guilt, for each small action you take.

And, since you’re here, I assume you’re a pet lover. Since that’s my world, I wanted to tackle simple tips for pet owners to live well and live gently with their dog or cat or fish or hamster.

Live gently. That’s my theme for this space for this year. Each of these 10ish tips will require small actions and are either low- or no-cost, as well.

I want to minimize every barrier and make it easy for you to jump right in!

Shall we?

To Do Today

  • Open your pet supplies cabinet and check out your stash. And take two simple actions:
    • First, is there anything you can quickly cull? And I mean quickly, like five minutes or even two. Expired medications are a natural place to start. My town allows meds to be dropped off for proper disposal, so check your city’s website before chunking any medications.
    • Second, make a “do not buy” list in the notes app on your phone. It seems counter-intuitive because of course we all make shopping lists, but how often have you purchased something just because you couldn’t remember if you had any more of it at home? If you have plenty of treats or plenty of topicals or whatever, note it down. Overbuying is a huge contributor to waste, so put a reminder somewhere prominent so that when you’re out and can’t remember if you have enough biscuits, you can check your list and avoid buying extra.
  • Brainstorm your routine. Take five minutes. Think through your feeding or grooming routines and see if anything jumps out at you as a quick fix. I did this recently and realized something wacky: I had to empty my cats’ probiotics into their bowl from the capsules they came in. I was tossing those capsules, but they were designed to be digested. Light bulb! I could start tossing the empty capsules to my compost pile. Tiny, sure, but still something!

To Do This Week

  • Make your shopping list with packaging in mind. If you always stock up on cat food pouches, get the same formula in a metal tin. If you buy training treats in plastic tubs, swap for a scoop out of your pet store’s bulk bin into a reusable shopping bag OR pick a brand that comes in cardboard boxes.
  • Research cat litter choices. Reality check: Cats are picky. They can be incredibly finicky about their litter. It’s not worth having your cat go outside the box around your house just to avoid a litter. So, instead of just switching at once, pick one you want to try to transition your cat to, pick up a box, and just sprinkle a bit on top of your current litter. See what happens. Repeat until both you and your cat are happy.
    READ MORE: The Ultimate Guide to Raising a Zero-Waste Cat

To Do This Month

  • Consider subscriptions for pet supplies. Hear me out on this one: If you can automate your dog’s food or your cat’s supplements or your fish tank’s filters, you won’t have to step into a store and risk overbuying or impulse purchases you don’t really need. That means less stuff to toss out later. Lots of people are concerned about shipping all this product. I was too. I did a little googling and want to share some thoughts:
    • Meal kits may be better than grocery shopping because–despite a lot of packaging–they cut down on food waste. Also, from that article: “Americans chuck some 133 billion pounds of food each year, and as Jamie Ducharme notes in Time, wasted food means unnecessary land, water and fertilized is used and unnecessary greenhouse gases are pumped into the atmosphere. As it rots in landfills, food waste also produces the greenhouse gas methane.”
    • Recyclebank weighed the pros and cons and concluded that some subscriptions are gentler on the planet than others and in some cases. They concluded: “In short, the environmental costs of subscriptions depend on which services you use and how they operate. Your best bet is to do your research on the options available to you and exercise critical thinking to compare their footprints. Go for services that are known for using minimal packaging, or that offer easily recyclable or compostable choices.” All that to say: Make your own call. For me, ordering subscriptions saves time, money, trips to the store, risks of overbuying, etc. and makes it worthwhile.
  • Choose one bigger swap to work towards. But choose one that fits your lifestyle. Maybe it’s donating your plastic food and water dishes to the shelter in favor of metal ones. Maybe it’s working with your vet to replace some of your dog’s food with fresh fruits and veggies. Maybe it’s learning how to sew washable covers for your pet’s beds so they don’t need to be replaced when worn out, just recovered. Whatever it is, don’t try to do it all in a day or a week. Pick the swap and make a plan with teeny, tiny baby steps. If the project feels overwhelming (adding rain barrels to all my gutters this weekend!) it’s too big. Break it down into steps you’ll actually take.

To Do This Year

Pay attention. It’s that easy, really. Pay attention. Be mindful of what you actually do, day in and day out.

Most of us trudge through life on autopilot. Once something becomes habit, we don’t really see it or feel it anymore.

This year, pay attention. Focus on what you’re doing, what you’re buying, what you’re throwing away.

Author James Redfield is supposed to have said:

“Where attention goes energy flows; where intention goes energy flows.”

(That quote is also attributed to Tony Robbins, Oprah, and more, so my apologies to Mr. Redfield if that’s incorrect.)

Turn your attention to your impact on the world. Take steps when you see them. They could be small–making it part of your habit to toss your dog’s fur by your oak tree for the birds to grab–or it could be huge–investing in solar for your home. The bottom line is every single action helps. Every single one. But you can’t take ANY action unless you truly see where it needs to happen.

So, pay attention. That’s it. Just notice what you do and how you move in the world. That alone will guide you where you need to make small changes or improvements.

Pay attention. We got this.

Need a starting point? I recommend: The Beginner’s Guide to Zero-Waste Pet Care or The Complete Guide to Zero-Waste Pet Food.

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