The Ultimate Guide to Zero Waste Pets
Just over a year ago I posted my Zero Waste Pets video, and if I’m being completely honest with you all, this video is one of my least favorite videos I’ve made. I wasn’t 100% feeling it that day, and when I watch it back I can tell. I don’t know if anyone else can, but it bothers me that I can. If you really want to watch it, it’s on this site, but I’m not going to link to it :)
So, I’m revamping my zero waste pets post into a blog. With something like this I think a written post is often easier to digest anyway.
It also gives me an excuse to share a whole bunch of cat pictures…
In the Kitchen
I used to make my cat, Ellie’s, food. I would either cook her chicken thighs or ground turkey with a supplement powder from Balance IT. The powder came in a hard plastic [recyclable] bottle, and the meat I could usually find at the butcher counter of my grocery store. It wasn’t completely zero waste, but it was close.
When I first made this switch, it took a while to find a combination she liked (eventually realizing all she wanted was poultry). But once that was settled, she loved it. She was in great shape, and didn’t seem to really ever get sick. I would make enough for a week or two at a time, so it wasn’t too time-consuming.
At some point last year, though, she started losing a bunch of weight and her fur became thin. She wasn’t eating as well, and I was obviously concerned. I took her to the vet and get some medication for her, but I knew she needed to be eating better. I switched back to dry, bagged cat food. Today, she’s doing great.
I don’t know if Ellie’s homemade diet contributed her to health issues, but after that scare, I’m happy to keep her on a dry food diet.
I’m not saying any of this to scare anyone out of making their own pet food if that’s what you want to do. Like I said, Ellie was in great shape and so healthy for a long time with her homemade diet.
In the Bin
If you do not want to explore making your own pet food, I recently learned that TerraCycle has created a new program for Wellness pet food bags. I’m not completely familiar with how TerraCycle works, but my understanding is that you sign up for their program, and if you feed your pet(s) a Wellness brand pet food, when the bag is empty, you can ship it to TerraCycle where it will be shredded and turned into hard plastic pellets to be used to create new plastic products.
Here in Tacoma, WinCo offers various pet foods in their bulk bins! This is something I’ve definitely never seen before moving here, so I was thrilled when I found it. I have not yet tried it, although I’m almost out of my current bag, so I’ll give it a try soon!
WinCo does not allow you to use your own jars and other heavy containers, but they are very welcoming of using your own bulk bugs! What’s great about buying from the bulk bins is you can get just a little to begin with, to see how your pet reacts to the change in diet, and then go back for more if they like it.
Check your favorite bulk bins to see if this option is available where you live!
Go Big or Go Home
If neither of these options work for you, choose the largest food container possible. The larger the container, the less waste per unit of food. (This is where I’m at right now.)
I mean seriously. This face. I can’t even.
First and foremost - never, ever, ever flush cat waste! I often see this presented as an option in the zero waste Facebook groups I am a part of, and luckily there is usually a person or two to jump in and ask that this not be done.
Cats, even of the indoor variety, can carry toxoplasmosis, which, in mild cases causes flu-like symptoms, and in severe cases can cause brain, eye, and other organ damage (source - CDC). While people with healthy immune systems may contract toxo and never realize it, those with compromised immune systems can have lasting effects. By flushing cat waste, you can expose those with compromised immune systems to toxo through the water system.
For these same reasons, cat waste should also never be composted in your backyard.
Personally, I use a Litter Genie for Ellie’s waste. An old boss suggested it to me before I brought Ellie home and I’m so glad she did! Whereas many cat owners lament their plastic bag usage, tossing a plastic shopping bag in the trash every few days, the Litter Genie drastically lowers my bag usage. It’s similar to a Diaper Genie, if you’re familiar with those.
When I scoop Ellie’s waste, I scoop it into the top of the Litter Genie, then pull out the handle to drop it into the bag below. The handle then closes again and I close the lid, keeping any smells contained. Using this method, I am able to use one bag for about three to four weeks of waste.
As for litter, in Columbus I was able to find bulk cat litter at Pet People. I could take an old litter bag, fill it up as much as I could carry, and pay per pound. I have not yet found this option in Tacoma, so I currently just buy a large cardboard box of litter, so it is recyclable.If you know of a spot to purchase bulk cat litter in the Tacoma area, please comment below! I’d love to check it out.
Dog waste, on the other hand, is safer to flush or compost, although if you do compost it in your backyard system, the resulting compost should not be used with plants you intend to eat. Kathryn over at Going Zero Waste just buries her dog’s waste in a hole in her backyard.
f this is not an option for you, and you use bags, there are “compostable” and “biodegradable” options available. Check out this video for why I use quotes around these terms. The key thing to remember about these bags, however, is that even if the bag is compostable or biodegradable, and the waste inside is also biodegradable, sending it to landfill means that they will likely never actually break down. So on the one hand, you’re using bags made of more natural materials and not fossil fuels, but landfills are designed to keep things from breaking down.
There are pros and cons to everything…
This brand does look like it has some solid company values, though, which is also super important.
Composting for Cats and Dogs
If you’re really lucky, some cities actually do have pet waste composting services available. I am not familiar with a comprehensive list of where these services are available, but I do know that this service is available in Tacoma!
For a subscription fee, Green Pet will come to your door and pick up your pet’s waste on a regular schedule, and then turn it into compost. Since they use a high-heat system, this process is safe for both cat and dog waste.
To be honest, treats are not something I’m personally familiar with, because Ellie’s never seemed to express much interest in them. She plays with them more than she eats them. (Is this an Ellie thing, or a cat thing?)
However, I have found that most smaller pet stores I’ve visited have had dog treats in bulk, often made locally. Support small business in your community, and you may find unpackaged treats galore in the process!
There are also TONS of recipes on Pinterest for pet treats. A quick search for “homemade pet treats” will get you a plethora of options. This option is also great because then you know exactly what is going in your pet’s treats, and you can make them as big or as small as you want. Perfectly customized treats for your best friend!
I have the cutest kitty. You can’t convince me otherwise.
I have never bought a toy for Ellie. I brought home a couple from the sanctuary I adopted her from, but she hardly plays with them. My parents gave her [me] a laser pointer for Christmas one year that, of course, is always a blast to play with, but for the most part, she’s never played much with toys.
Having said that...Ellie freaking loves pens. If I leave a pen on the floor or on the bed, you better believe she’s pawing at it, chasing it, flipping it over, the works. I don’t know what it is about a pen, but she loves it! She’s also been known to do the same with a bottle cap on a hardwood floor.
If I were to look for some toys for her, though, or if I had a dog to buy toys for, I would first check out Purrfectplay. This woman-owned, Indiana-based company makes pet toys, treats, and supplies out of natural materials. From their website - “If Mother Nature doesn’t make it, we don’t use it!” They also have give-back programs and support their community through business, which is a priority for me when searching for businesses to support.
By using natural materials in toys, when they reach the end of their life, they can simply be composted in your backyard!
And lastly, if your dog is in need of a good soak in the tub, here at A Drop in the Ocean we’ve got your covered! Our vegan and palm oil free dog shampoo is hand-crafted in La Conner, Washington by a woman-owned business, inspired by the owner’s pup. It’s natural, it smells amazing, and your best friend is sure to love it! As a bonus, the essential oil blend keeps fleas away, too. Pamper your pup!
As with everything else zero waste, there is no perfect solution here. We will always create trash in our current linear economy. Just do the best you can, and keep your pet happy and healthy. Because I think we can all agree, that’s way more important than producing a bit of trash.
What are your favorite zero waste pet hacks?
When I volunteered with an animal shelter in TN several years ago, we used Oil Dry for cat litter. It is the same stuff but does not have whatever is in litter that makes it clump. This was good because you should NOT use clumping litter with kittens. Like babies, they taste a lot of stuff, and clumping litter clumps in their digestive tracks.
We actually got Oil Dry donated to us in pallet loads by a local oil company that supported our work. It came in 50 pound bags.
While not a hack, this is definitely zero waste for me – reusable pee pads. I have had a number of dogs that have been on steroids as they aged for various illnesses. While pricey to at first, I soon realized the value. One pup would use at least 3 pads/day. Using disposable pad could at that rate could cost close to $20.00/month or $250/year. With reusable pads, the only cost was time, machine use (but I was using the machine to wash my clothes – not at the same time though), and a few squirts of Dr. Bronner’s Sal Suds and a little vinegar. Nominal amount. Zero waste of disposable pads.
An old coffee can works for a cheap option 😊 We use a Folgers coffee can and it keeps the smells at bay.
Your Elllie does look like a sweet beautiful girlie!
We also use a Litter Genie. Once the bags that came with the original purchase ran out, we decided to put our Kali’s waste into the Genie then dump it into our trash can with the rest of our garbage. It works great and the odors are still kept at bay.
At least one of the Petco’s in Tacoma had bulk cat litter when I lived there. I know the Petco up by us in Shoreline also has it. I’d e
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