Can we be eco-friendly and have a pet?
Today, the word “ecology” is on everyone’s lips. The impact of the human race on the planet no longer has to be proven, and it’s become urgent to act in order to save it! But what about the carbon footprint of our four-legged companions? Do cats and dogs pollute? What are the ecological impacts of our pets, and is it only possible to have an eco-friendly cat or dog?
Updated on the 19/12/2019, 15:26
It’s difficult to let the climate emergency that our planet faces today pass us by. Melting glaciers, CO2 emissions, global warming, the disappearance of the amazon rainforest… The impact of humanity on our own planet is enormous and devastating.
Fortunately, for some time now, a real awareness has arisen. While environmentalism was previously a topic reserved for a few select groups, today everyone is able to learn about the problem and act on their own level.
Even though us humans are by far the most polluting animals on Earth, our dogs and cats aren’t the most environmentally friendly either! Therefore, the question arises: what can we do to reduce the ecological impact of the pets that depend on us?
Does my dog or cat pollute?
According to a global Gfk study conducted in 22 different countries, 56% of the global population live with at least one pet. Therefore, there are approximately 800 million pets in the world. Evidently, this has had a significant impact on the environment, since the annual environmental damage of all these animals is equivalent to 396 million hectares, or more than 12 million hectares per second!
In detail, it shows:
Ecological footprint of a cat: 0.15 ha / year
Ecological footprint of a dog (medium size): 0.84 ha / year
Ecological footprint of a hamster: 0.014 ha / year
For comparison, a British person consumes an average of 4.8 hectares per year. The global average is 2.84 hectares per year (Source: Global Footprint Network 2014). For a small piece of information, a 4X4 Toyota Land Cruiser has an ecological impact of 0.41 ha / year
Your dog therefore pollutes more than a 4x4! It’s true. So, what can be done to regulate the ecological impact of our domestic dogs and cats? What are the possibilities to reap all the benefits of having a pet (and there are many), while helping to save the environment and the air for the planet?
In late 2009, two architects specialising in sustainable development, Robert and Brenda Vale, wrote a book with a deliberately punchy title: Time to Eat the Dog: The Real Guide to Sustainable Living). In this book, the two university professors explain in particular that the carbon footprint of a medium-sized dog is twice that of a 4x4 that travels 10,000 kilometres per year. Their advice? Only adopt animals that are meant to be eaten!
Without going that far, it’s nevertheless important that pet owners are aware of the significant ecological impact of their little companions and take responsibility for it. Contrary to what anyone might think, it is very easy at our scale to act in favour of the environment while taking care of pets.
10 tips to limit the ecological impact of your dog or cat:
Choose the litter carefully
In the UK, a cat uses on average 26 kilos of litter a year; an important statistic that obviously has a strong impact on the environment. And for good reason, since most litters are non-recyclable and contain chemical and harmful substances.
How then can the ecological impact be reduced while using a good quality litter? Simply opt for an environmentally-friendly litter so that your cat pollutes less every day. There are now several on the market and they are just as effective as conventional litter. Just choose a natural and biodegradable type.
Don’t want to buy litter anymore? Why not opt for wood-pellets that are usually used for potting soil or heating?
Finally, remember that you should never compost litter, natural or not.
Leo Hickman, Journalist specialising in Climate Change:
“A far less controversial litter is one made from a recycled, biodegradable material such as sawdust. Before modern cat litters were invented, owners would use sand, garden soil, shredded newspaper or even pine leaves… In theory, the best litter is one that can be composted in the garden.”
Find the eco-friendly litter that best fits your cat on NaturalandClean!
Adopt an abandoned animal rather than buying
Rather than buying a dog or cat and encourage them to breed and produce litters, why not opt for adoption? Not only will you do a great job of saving an animal that really needs it and leaving a space for another animal, but you will also be benefitting the planet!
Remember that in shelters you can find all kinds of pets of all sizes, characters and ages. You’ll be sure to find your companion for life.
For example, you can head to the RSPCA website and click on the Rehome a Pet tab to find your perfect pet.
Buy sustainable toys for your dog or cat
When you have a pet, it's a bit like having a child: you want to buy them a lot of things, including lots of toys each more colourful than the last. But all these toys, often plastic, have an ecological footprint and are harmful to our planet.
To have an eco-friendly animal, why not prioritise greener toys for dogs or cats, such as simple boxes (it's no secret, cats love it!) or toys made from natural materials, for example wood. Metal bowls can also be used rather than plastic bowls, which become damaged and need to be replaced more quickly.
Finally, recycling can also be the solution. A soft toy that is no longer used by a child, a toy that has already been used for another animal ... Second-hand is always a good option for saving the environment and a house full of toys is a no-brainer!
Compost all dog and cat hair
Cats and dogs lose a significant amount of hair throughout the year. But these hairs can be put to a better use than in the bin! For example, pet hair can be left in the garden, mainly in the spring, so that the birds can use it to make their nests.
There are also companies that recycle canine and feline to make wool, research them!
Dog and cat hair can also simply be composted with the rest of your organic waste.
Pick up their mess (with biodegradable bags)
Every owner that walks their pet in town carries a few plastic waste bags, to avoid risking a fine as well as leaving a mess in a public space! Through collecting dog excrement every day, a lot of plastic waste accumulates, which has a negative impact on the environment.
So, it becomes interesting to think about the composition of the bags that are used to clean after dogs. They can be made from either recycled plastic or vegetable plastic, for example.
If you are lucky enough to have a garden in which your dog can do their business, there is no need to pick them up with a plastic bag: a shovel will suffice, and the waste can be added to the compost or just moved to the foot of trees, for example. Therefore, your dog will be eco-friendly, the earth will be enriched, and your garden will be all the more beautiful!
George Bramble, Founder of Beco Pets:
“Beco Pets’ bags are bigger and stronger than other bags on the market and eco-friendlier, as they fully degrade within one year when thrown away. All Beco Pets’ products are packaged in recycled cardboard and paper, and the poop bags have a recycled cardboard inner core to roll the bags round.”
Have your pets neutered
In the same way that adopting an animal rather than buying one is a good gesture towards the environment, sterilising your pet is too. Having your cat neutered can prevent proliferation, but also eliminates the risk of having to manage pregnancy and litters.
That's why Psychologists from the University of Sheffield have teamed up with Cat Smart, a project funded by the RSPCA , that aims to advocate neutering from when a cat is four months old, to ensure that the cat does not produce a litter accidentally, which would have a profound impact on the number of stray cats in Sheffield
In addition, neutering pets also has many advantages over their behaviour and health.
Home-cook their meals
More and more owners are cooking for their animals. This is a good way of minimising the environmental impact of feeding the animal with products purchased in bulk. Seasonal vegetables, bulk cereals, butcher's meat (without necessarily needing to buy the most expensive pieces!), there are many options to treat your dog or cat with, while keeping in mind the future of our planet.
Reduce their energy costs
At first sight, we can say that a pet’s energy expenditure is minimal. But when you think about it, lots of little things accumulate and increase the final expenditure. But, an animal’s footprint can be reduced by, wherever possible, seeing a veterinarian whose office is close to home, walking to places accessible on foot rather than by car, and using public transport over personal when traveling with pets.
Also, when traveling, it is better to go with your pet by train than by plane or car. The means and costs associated with these choices, however, must be considered, but many dogs and cats take the train each day without difficulty; so, it tends to be feasible for many pet owners!
Buy loose food (or in bulk)
More and more food stores are offering loose dry food, such as cereals, flours, oilseeds and vegetables. This trend also concerns pet shops that now sell loose biscuits, that is to say without any packaging. Just visit the shop with a pre-weighed container or a cloth bag and fill it with as much food as you like. It's simple, fun and good for the environment!
If you don’t have the access to buying loose biscuits nearby, you can opt for buying them in bulk. Larger packages are not only more economical, but they also limit packaging waste and the need to transport greater volumes of smaller products.
“Our 2kg bags are 100% compostable and biodegradable. We are in the process of developing technology to make this possible with our bigger bags too”.
Buy second-hand accessories
When welcoming an animal into our lives, we quickly realise that they need a number of different accessories every day, for example, transport bags, baskets, bowls, cat trees and toys. That makes more things to have to produce and buy! To limit the impact of these objects, they can be bought second-hand on specialised sites, or in stores like Preloved for pets or others.
In most cases, as long as the object has been cleaned well before it’s given to the animal, they shouldn’t even realise that it’s been preloved by another animal. If the previous animal has left their smell on the accessory in question, your four-legged companion may sniff it with curiosity before accepting it for good. But in general, a little clean should be enough for your pet to happily accept their new basket, toy or blanket!
What if I want to do more for my planet?
Putting all these measures in place would already significantly reduce the environmental impact of your pet. But how can you go even further?
George Bramble, Founder of Beco Pets:
Some people participate, at a personal level, in controlling the stray animal population by neutering cats and dogs at the vet, at their expense. Beyond neutering domestic animals, this is an initiative that prevents many litters of kittens and puppies being born, which is often in very difficult conditions for the mother. This certainly has a cost - £180 for the average dog, and £70 for the cat, but the impact is vast.
If we can’t afford this expense ourselves, we can also donate, even small, to associations like Wood Green Animal Charity or The Mayhew Animal Home that count neutering among their a planet by using greener internet services. For example, Green ISP, a UK-based environmentally guided internet services provider, offers services that are 100% carbon neutral and plant a tree for every new customer that subscribes to their internet provider services. Learn more about the company through their website!
And finally, let's not forget that the most polluting animals are humans! Beyond our pets, we are the primary actors in our daily consumption that has a real impact on the planet. We can all do small things every day to limit our carbon footprint and ensure a prosperous future for the Earth!