Zero Waste Living

Sustainable pet care 101 (with an eco-friendly pet product guide)

In a zero-waste Facebook group the other day, I saw someone comment on a post about how pets really aren’t that sustainable. They shared a whole list of reasons as to why they came to that conclusion, but it got my wheels turning. 

Is owning pets really sustainable? It’s something humans have done forever, but with all the gear they need, the food they eat (lots of meat), and their waste (can it be composted?), is it something we need to think about on our eco-minimalist journey?

In this guide, I explore all things sustainable pet care, including the answers to questions ranging from if owning a pet is sustainable, to “what’s the best eco-friendly cat litter”(yes, I have an answer). I’ve also done a ton of research to share some of the best eco-friendly pet products I could find to save you time and mental energy!

Let’s dive in. 

Related post: Eco minimalism 101: The What, Why, and How

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Is owning a pet sustainable?

Have you ever thought about the answer to this question? At first glance, pets can create a lot of waste, and may even seem to NOT be sustainable. Many animals require eating exclusively or mostly a meat diet. Their poop isn’t easily compostable, leaving much of it to end up rotting in a landfill. Oh, and the pet clothing industry? Yeah, globally, we spent over 5 BILLION dollars. For clothing. For our pets. Sustainable pet care? I think not.

That all being said, don’t think I’m super anti-pet. I’ve had cats, gerbils, fish, and birds throughout my life. Currently? I own three cats. 

Why is that the case if they seem to be not the most sustainable option for someone trying to live with as least waste as possible?

Pets provide a lot of other benefits that can contribute to our lives being sustainable (mental health being a big one). I’m sure if you own pets, you already know how they contribute in a positive way to your life, so I won’t go into detail here. 

TLDR: pets definitely can contribute to extra waste in our lives, but if done with intentionality (like all things), there are ways you can combine your eco-minimalist values and provide sustainable pet care. 

Related post: Sustainable self-care: 7 ways to fill up your cup in an eco-friendly way

How can pets be sustainable?

Here are some ways that you can balance pet ownership and your eco-minimalist values for ultimate sustainable pet care. Like all things in this lifestyle, it’s important to start slow! Take one thing at a time, use things up and replace as needed….you know the drill. 

If and when you are in the market to buy pet supplies, I share specific resources that are eco-friendly and ethically made in the second half of this post. 

Don’t overbuy

Remember how I mentioned we spend over five billion dollars globally just on pet clothes? The pet industry is HUGE, and considering consumption is a huge reason we are where we are in the climate crisis, it only makes sense to not only reduce buying items in all areas that we can, including for our pets.

I get it, I’m guilty of wanting to buy my pets adorable little booties and vests and Christmas wear, but I also know it’s not necessary, and that there’s a 10% chance they’ll actually wear it. 

I’m not here to tell you what you should or shouldn’t buy – instead just be mindful! Buy secondhand if there is absolutely something you want or need. Or, check your local Buy Nothing Group/Nextdoor/Facebook B/S/T group. 

Remember, overall, less stuff = less clutter, and we’re all about reducing the number of items in our home here. 

Related post: Minimalism and Zero Waste Living Can Help with Anxiety: Here’s How

Shop secondhand

If and when you DO have to obtain new pet supplies, shopping secondhand for things other than food or litter (just two examples) is a great way to reduce your pet’s footprint. Check local thrift shops, Buy Nothing Groups, Facebook Marketplace, or even just by asking friends and family. 

My husband and I were looking to try out a leash for our cat but didn’t want to buy something if he would hate it. So, we asked our friends and family on Facebook, and got multiple responses! 

Get regular pet checkups 

Like humans, providing preventative care is often more sustainable than having to be reactionary. Giving your pets their regular checkup, medications (flea and tick, for example), and other preventative care can help keep your pets more ‘green’ (not to mention healthy!)

Feed only what’s recommended

Many of us overfeed our pets, according to our vets. By following the feeding instructions on the food containers, and talking with your vet about what and how much you should be feeding your pet, you can potentially reduce the amount of food you need to buy. This saves money, reduces resources, and keeps your pets healthy!

One thing that has helped our family is to purchase an automatic feeder. This helps us measure exactly the amount of food our cats need each day. Additionally, we’re able to set up various times throughout the day that the machine distributes a little bit of food automatically. It’s super helpful to ensure we’re not overfeeding, and also keeps our three beasts cats happy because they’re getting a little bit of food throughout the day. 

Buy what you can in bulk

Pet treats, litter, and sometimes even food can be found in bulk at pet stores. For example, some Petcos have cat litter in bulk, so you can bring your own container and fill up. 

Pet treats are another thing you can sometimes find plastic/package free. In Minnesota, we have a store called Chuck and Don’s (not sure how wide-spread they are), but they sell a number of treats package free. It’s definitely worth checking around to local pet-food stores or even chain options to see if yours does too. 

Another option is to buy treats made by a local maker. You can try and find someone by posting an ISO post in your community page on Facebook or Nextdoor, ask neighbors, or Etsy. Additionally, local craft/art shows/farmer’s markets may have options as well.

Buy the biggest size you can

Bulk not an option for you? No worries. One way to reduce waste is to buy the biggest package of an item that you can (this goes for any packaging, really). Not only is this usually more economical in the long run, but a bigger package provides more opportunities for reuse. 

For example, we buy the biggest bag of cat food that we can, and reuse the bag for the cat litter later on, or we use it as a trash bag for the bathroom. 

Upcycle to make your own

There are some pet items you can make yourself! Here are just some of the options:

  • Food: with the help of a vet and pet nutritionist, you sometimes can make your own food. Please consult with a professional on this, because doing so on your own can cause your pet to fall ill due to lack of nutrition
  • Pet treats: there are tons of recipes on Pinterest or Ecosia! It can be a fun activity for a rainy day, or to do with kids
  • Toys: upcycle old shirts/sweaters or other items and make a fun toy for your pets. Pinterest and Ecosia is your friend for this one as well
  • Pet bed: Old pillows can be a great option for a pet bed! Or, make your own out of an old towel or blanket, and stuff it with textiles that are no longer usable.
  • Grow your own: I grow cat grass and catnip for our kitties, and they love it! It’s  fun and easy (bonus: bees LOVE cat nip flowers).

Focus on progress, not perfection

As with all eco-minimalist ways, this is a marathon, not a sprint! Making these swaps can and should (in my opinion) take time. 

  1. It may take some trial and error to find products that work for you and your pet
  2. You want to make sure that you use up all the items you currently have so they don’t go to waste. As you start to run out of something, research alternatives so you’re ready to go
  3. Sometimes swaps can be more expensive. Hopefully by following some of the tips above you can save a little money, but if you are on a budget, no worries! Pick one or two things that you want to switch and if you can, go from there. And if you can’t? Focus your efforts in an area that you can change. 

Terracycle Pet Food Packaging Programs

Part of owning a pet comes waste from pet food. Unless you work with a vet or pet nutritionist to DIY your own food, you likely come home with a bag of food, litter, or other containers.

Fortunately, if you are hoping to recycle that packaging, Terracycle does offer some programs where they’ve partnered with certain pet food brands to accept their packaging to recycle. Many are free, but there are a handful of options that do cost money. 

There is also an option for buying a large box for pet food packaging AND all other pet supplies (non-food). These do cost money, but may be worth checking with your vet, a local pet store, or friends/neighbors to raise funds and buy one. 

Eco-friendly pet product guide 

Now that we’ve gone through some general tips on how to incorporate sustainable pet care into your life, let’s take a look at some specific eco-friendly pet products.

Bonus: For all EarthHero items, you can use discount code ‘LAURA10‘ at checkout.

The fine print: applies sitewide with the exception of any products from Naturepedic, TerraCycle, Zeal Optics, Gift Cards, or sale items. The code is valid for first-time EarthHero customers (i.e. 1 usage per customer) and can not be used with any other code and expires 1/31/2024 at 11:59 pm MST.

First, I’ll share my recommendations based on what I use for my three cats, followed by some different pet supply options from ethical and sustainable small businesses.  

My recommendations (eco-friendly pet products we use daily)

Zero Waste Dog Eco-Friendly Pet Product Guide

Eco-friendly dog bed

Eco-friendly dog toys

Other options include finding old tennis balls out and about in your community, bunching up or braiding old textiles, toilet paper tubes, or coconut hulls (for those who live in a tropical climate). 

Another popular suggestion I see often is West Paw Dog Toys. These toys are made with recycled materials, and the company will take back dog toys that have reached the end of their life. 

Eco-friendly dog food

Eco-friendly dog treats

Eco-friendly waste items

Eco-friendly dog collars and leashes 

Eco-friendly dog grooming products

Eco-friendly health and wellness products for dogs

Eco-friendly dog gear

Eco-friendly products to clean up dog messes

Other

Zero Waste Cat Eco-Friendly Pet Product Guide

Eco-friendly cat beds

Eco-friendly cat toys

Eco-friendly cat treats

Eco-friendly cat food 

Eco-friendly cat litter

Eco-friendly litter box

For more information on how to dispose of cat litter in an eco-friendly way, check out this post. 

Eco-friendly cat collars and leashes 

Eco-friendly cat grooming products

Eco-friendly health and wellness products for cats

Products for cat messes

General eco-friendly pet products (not pet specific)

Other: 

General eco-friendly pet product brands

With a little planning and time, your pets can be living the sustainable pet life as much as you!