ZERO WASTE DOG CARE: A TAIL-WAGGING GUIDE TO KEEPING PAWS OFF PLASTIC

Zero-Waste-Dog-Sustainable-Jungle
Sticks and logs can do a pretty good job of entertaining a chew monster! Can you spot the stick in his "beard"

For the longest time (like 10+ years!) we’ve wanted a dog. Badly. But because of our fairly nomadic lives, we were just not in the right space. Until 8 months ago. We welcomed a little Finnish Lapphund into our lives called Taavi – Finnish for “beloved” 🙂

It’s been the most heartwarming and humorous ride and it has truly enriched our lives. Everyone should get a dog. Not only is it good for the body and soul but it teaches you how to be a better person. You know how the saying goes “be the person who your dog thinks you are”.

While dogs really contribute to human health and happiness, like any living being they have a carbon footprint. How big that carbon footprint is depends on the owner. According to Darcy Matheson’s book, Greening Your Pet Care, one medium sized dog actually has a yearly carbon footprint (err pawprint) of 2.1 acres. That’s double a “gas guzzling” car driven 10,000km per year.

Abiding by a zero waste lifestyle means not only reducing our personal waste, but that of the creatures who depend on us.

But hark! Pets are so messy! Is it even possible to have a zero waste pet? Perhaps a bit surprising to those of us endlessly cleaning up the doggy doo, zero waste dog care is entirely possible! Who knew?!

We’re not saying it’s easy. Gosh it’s been a long road! And let me tell you, we didn’t even get half of what we’ve advised below right at first… and on many points, we still haven’t. This has been a total journey for us and we are improving all the time as we learn more. 

Every little bit counts, so don’t let the “zero waste” term and spotlight scare you. Read on for some helpful zero waste dog care tips and eco friendly pet products to make your doggy a doggone eco delight.

Further, if you have nailed being zero waste with your pet (or any any aspect of the objective), we absolutely would LOVE to hear of any further zero waste doggy tips you may have! 

1. FEED FIDO WITH ZERO WASTE DOG FOOD

We give Taavi any vegetables that we don't eat (so there's no food waste). Also prevents our composting from getting too full too quickly!

If you own a dog (especially a larger breed) you’ll know that they eat A LOT. If only we could all be so cavalier about our calories. That’s why it’s all the more important that pet owners focus on supporting sustainable dog food brands.

**IMPORTANT NOTE: We are not dog nutritionists so please discuss any changes your plan to make to your dog’s diet with your vet**

Beware of “human grade” dog foods

Sure it sounds good and wholesome, but according to the World Wildlife Fund, it’s the most wasteful dog food option. Using prime cuts of beef not only encourages overproduction in the livestock industry (which is responsible for tons of greenhouse gas emissions), but it’s not actually any better for pets than less desirable parts of the animals.

The wasted cuts that we as people don’t like to eat are actually extremely nutritious for dogs (and they even taste good for our furry friends!).  Best of all, this stops these cuts from just going to landfills and reduces global food waste. 

Remember, zero waste living goes beyond your personal waste production; it extends to the waste your consumer choices encourage. 

That said, “human grade” dog foods are not necessarily all bad.  Vegetarian and vegan dog foods can be human grade without encouraging the same food industry waste. Whether or not these alternative diets are healthy for dogs is not entirely clear. Dogs are certainly omnivores. To find out more about dog food brand ingredient sourcing and ethical supply chains, check out the Pet Sustainability Coalition, created in partnership with the WWF.

Finding strictly zero waste dog food is tricky

We have really struggled with this. Taavi gets a mixture of chicken necks (super cheap from the market because no one wants them), veggies, fruit and kibble (we recycle the bags through RedCycle in Australia) but we’re trying to find better solutions.

You can typically find some dog food in bulk at many pet stores, options are limited though to lower quality foods.  Plus they likely came from a bag that the pet store just opened instead of you.

Most dog food bags consist of a stock paper outer and plastic liner, which means most municipalities  wont recycle it.

Some brands, such as Open Farm and Wellness, don’t offer zero waste packaging but they do partner with Terracycle. From them, you can order a free envelope in which to send in old dog food bags to ensure they get properly recycled. It’s not strictly zero waste but it’s better than trashing, for sure.

Both the aforementioned brands are wholesome, grain free kibble options without any preservatives.  Open Farm is a freeze fried food with wild caught or humanely caught animal ingredients. Wellness Core is a vegan dog food brand, if that’s the avenue you choose to raise your dog.

Make your own zero waste dog food

If you have the time, the best way to really control what your dog eats is to make it yourself. 

No, that doesn’t mean baking individual bits of kibble. It actually just means mixing three main types of ingredients in equal parts:

  • Protein: Try going to farmers markets and collecting scrap cuts that might normally be thrown away.
  • Raw veggies
  • Cooked veggies and root vegetables (such as potato, squash, and pumpkin)

Just make sure to check this list about which foods are safe for canine consumption .

Bear in mind these are general guidelines. Different breeds have slightly different nutritional needs, so do some research about your particular pup and again, first discuss with your vet.

While this is by far the best way to make truly zero waste dog food, it’s also very time consuming. There’s a reason fast food chains unfortunately do so well; we hardly have time to cook for ourselves, let alone our pets! But if you want to take on the task check out these recipes and  this article with more detailed shared experiences of how to design a zero waste dog diet

Serve supper in sustainable and durable Bamboo dog bowls

When dinner time rolls around, avoid plastic bowls. Of course, if you already have a dog and a plastic bowl, by all means use it. Always use what you have before buying new.

But if you’re prepping to become a first time dog parent, make sure you shop sustainably and look for either a metal, ceramic, or double fiber bamboo dog bowls, of which there’s some super cute options on Etsy. Also worth being conscious that if your dog is a chewing machine (like ours), metal is probably the way to go! 

Don’t overfeed your dog

Make sure you’re feeding the right amount. This not only wastes food but can eventually put your dog at risk of obesity. Do some research about how much food is needed for your dog’s weight and activity level.

2. GIVE SOMETHING SWEET WITH ZERO WASTE DOG TREATS

Peanut butter in the kong is a winning snack

We all like something sweet after our dinner and dogs are no exception. Fortunately, you can accompany that zero waste dog food with some tasty treats. Use these for training your pup or just for rewarding them for being so darn cute. Can you tell we’re total suckers for puppy dog eyes?

Luckily zero waste dog treats are pretty easy to find, both online and in store. For U.S. readers, check out this small company that is newly phasing out ALL plastic packaging to offer natural, “naked” dog treats. For Aussie readers, Biome has some pretty drool-worthy options.

The easiest way to find zero waste dog treats is in the bulk biscuit bar at your local Pet Store (e.g. PetCo or PetSmart in the US). These literally look like dog bone buffets!

While this zero waste option is better than none at all, keep in mind that many of these biscuits may not be truly zero waste. Sometimes the pet stores will just open bags and dump them in the buffet for ease of quantity selection. They can also be chock full of preservatives and other chemicals. Dogs are members of the family, and we should be conscious of what we’re feeding them.

It’s actually totally okay to feed dogs whole food. “People food” isn’t necessarily bad, as long as we’re careful and conservative about what we give them. Again, check which foods dogs can eat and which ones are poisonous.

Some foods, like carrots, apples and sweet potato, can just be given raw. Pro tip: for extra fun and a bit of a challenge freeze them and your pup will have something to gnaw at. Taavi LOVES this and they’re easy to buy zero waste!

These little pupscicles can also be made with a variety of whole foods. Mash up or blend tasty combos of bananas, blueberries, peanut butter (our usual go to recipe) and more and freeze in a standard ice cube tray (or a Kong toy). Dogs love them AND you get to creatively concoct different recipes.

To prep on-the-go zero waste dog treats for walks or travel, try your hand at baking with this wonderfully simple 4-ingredient recipe for homemade zero waste dog biscuits.

3. FOR LONGER LASTING TREATS, TRY ZERO WASTE DOG CHEWS

This was once an antler - it has been enjoyed!

Zero waste dog chews are not only a tasty way to occupy your dog’s attention for long periods of time, but they clean teeth and promote dental health.

Avoid rawhide at all costs! Lots of chemicals go into the processing and they can chip and splinter, presenting a major choking hazard to dogs.

Antlers are a great alternative. They’re durable, long-lasting, and resistant to splintering (unless you get older “class C” antlers, which are generally white in color). Class A is the most moist and has the most nutrients, but Class B is also fine and a bit less expensive.  Etsy actually has a big selection. Have a look for options that are ethically sourced in the wild.

4. NEWSPAPER OR ZERO WASTE DOG BAGS ARE THE KEY TO SUSTAINABLE PET OWNERSHIP

Newspaper and Who Gives a Crap sheets do the job for us!

Now that we’ve covered our bases on zero waste dog food, consider that what goes in must come out. Dog ownership isn’t all tummy rubs and tail wags, after all.

The Problem with Not Picking Up Poop

According to Doody Calls, the U.S.’s 78.2 million dogs produce over 10 million TONS of poop per year.

So how do you turn a dog’s mess into less? Well just as it’s possible to make your own zero waste bathroom, you can make your dog’s bathroom zero waste, too.

Plastic aside, the single biggest thing you can do to make dog more sustainable is to just pick up their poop. Religiously. Every single turd. Every time. We really can’t stress how important this is. It’s become so common for people to leave their dog’s mess where it falls, but it’s a biohazard to do that. Dog feces is filled with all sorts of microorganisms, like giardia, roundworm, and E. coli. These wash into waterways used for recreation and can even contaminate drinking water.

Even in rural areas and remote hiking trails, it can disrupt the natural ecosystem. Since feces is nutrient rich, it can lead to explosive algae growth in streams and lakes, which eventually leads to areas unsupportive of aquatic life.

So what’s the best way to pick up the doo? There are a few options….

At home: Scoop n flush

If we’re at home and it’s time for Taavi’s poop we simply scoop it up with an old dustpan and flush it down the toilet (more on this below). Of course, we use a dedicated dust pan and brush, which we leave outside in a designated spot! It’s the best and easiest at home zero waste solution, we’ve found! If scooping into a dustpan is not your thing, the good old Pooper Scooper might be worthwhile investment.

Newspaper!

When out and about, the absolute simplest (and cheapest) approach is to use old newspaper to pick up dog poop! This works great and both can be composted!

Given we are millennials, we don’t actually read physical newspapers these days so we ask our family and friends to keep them for us. You can also typically get them from local cafes. 

There is a bit of a technique to picking up dog poo with newspaper as the chances of exposing yourself to poop fingers is a bit higher. We’ve found double layering with a big enough sheet is key. Once scooped in the middle of the big sheet, fold around the edges and twist into a bag like shape.

If you want to go the extra mile, our friends at Reusable Nation have a great article on making more solid dog poo bags out of newspaper

Compostable Zero Waste Dog Bag Rolls

If the concept of newspaper is a bit much for you,  lots of people are turning to compostable dog bag rolls. These are great… when used properly. If used improperly, they can actually be worse.

Only use compostable bags if you intend on actually composting it with the poop (we’ll get to that in a second). If you just throw it in the trash, it’ll end up in the same landfill as plastic bags. Since landfills compress trash, the oxygen-dependent biodegradation process will be completely halted.

If you plan on disposing of them responsibly, by all means! Be sure to buy a brand that is third party certified as home compostable. Compostable is NOT the same thing as biodegradeable so don’t fall into the trap of buying biodegradeable bags without checking their compostability credentials. This is a good article to learn more. Key compostability standards in the US are ASTM D6400 or D6868.

A good brand is the Bio Bag (available on Amazon and in Australia from Biome) – read more on their compostable credentials here.  

A note on flushable dog bags

 These certainly seem to be a promising solution and it would be amazing if technology can figure out a way to do this properly with minimal impact on the environment or our waste treatment systems but it seems the reality of flushable bags is not quite there yet so we continue to avoid for now . 

5. THE DOOS & DON’TS OF ECO FRIENDLY DOG POOP DISPOSAL

Zero Waste Dog Poop Disposal
The scoop n flush approach has worked best for us

Now let’s get down and dirty with what to actually do with the doo once you pick it up, since throwing it away isn’t an option.

Compost the poop traditionally or Bokashi style

While you can’t just toss your dog doo in with your regular kitchen composting, you can safely compost dog poop separately in its own bin. Really!  Check out this how-to video.

The key is ensuring the compost gets to a high enough temperature to kill any potential parasites. This means about 145°F. If your compost system doesn’t maintain that temperature, look into other methods.

If you’re just straight up burying your poop, the recommended time for safe full decomposition is one year.  Check out the National Resource Conservation Service’s guide to safe dog poop composting for more details.

For expedited pet waste composting, EnsoPet has designed a complete in-ground Pet Poop Composting System that utilizes the same concept as Bokashi composting.

It has a specialized starter to increase temperature and expedite the breakdown process. Best of all, it works for all pet waste. All you have to do is bury the cylinder opening and lid in the ground, add the starter, and (if you don’t get much natural rainfall) add a bit of water from time to time. Composting requires moisture.

The EnsoPet Composting System is unfortunately only available in Australia (you can buy through Biome). Unless you want to pay high international shipping fees (and offset those carbon emissions), that is.

Similar septic implant systems can be found in the U.S. and U.K. on Amazon, but you’ll need to obtain a separate starter liquid for it to get all the Bokashi benefits.

Just be sure that when you use the compost, regardless of what method you used, you don’t spread it on any edible plants for risk of later consuming bacteria and pathogens.

Compost dog poop with worms

As you may have learned from an older article of ours, there’s not a lot that worms won’t eat. Feces isn’t exactly their dish of choice, but if the poop de jour is all that’s in the bin, they’ll gladly gobble it up.

As such, make sure you use a separate tray or one separate composter for dog poop. And if you get a beautiful vermicomposter like this favorite of ours, you’ll forget there’s even anything as gross as poop in there.

Flushing dog poop is actually the safest, more sustainable option!

As mentioned above, this is our go-to zero waste poop disposal strategy for Taavi. It may surprise you to know that the #1 EPA recommendation for disposing of dog waste is to flush it.  Municipal water treatment plants are seemingly equipped to process and properly disinfect waste. 

We’re not getting into zero waste cat ownership here (yet) but it’s worth mentioning that you cannot flush cat feces down the toilet. Some sites may tell you feces itself is okay but litter is not, but in reality, even feces alone exposes our water systems to extremely difficult to kill parasites.

6. ZERO WASTE POTTY TRAINING FOR YOUR FUTURE ZERO WASTE PUPPY

Zero Waste Dog Reusable Puppy Pads
Image by Big Ears Creation on Etsy

If you think a zero waste dog is challenging, just try making a zero waste puppy.

The biggest challenge they pose to zero waste is potty training. Newspapers are one solution for piddle pads, and you can compost them in your dog poop compost bin if that’s how you’re disposing of poop. If not, the newspaper will be a little tough to properly dispose of.

In that case, look into washable pee pads. These multilayer pads have a soft and cozy outer and some sort of leakproof absorbent middle. Just toss in the washer and reuse!

Etsy has some good options, where you can likely request shipping sans the plastic.

Similarly, you can get washable dog diapers, which are great for either incontinent pooches or unspayed female dogs.

7. PROVIDE ECO-FRIENDLY FUN WITH ZERO WASTE DOG TOYS

Zero waste dog toys
The toy graveyard 🙁 - rather get compostable toys!

Now that we’ve got the dirty details out of the way, let’s celebrate with some play. Dogs are tough on toys. We have a bit of a graveyard of dead stuffed animals that Taavi has enjoyed eating. It’s been a bit of trial and error understanding which toys are safe and durable zero waste dog toys that also happen to be made of environmentally friendly materials.

First thing we want to see is that the toys are pet-friendly. Many dog toys are found to have lead and BPAs in them, which is mostly a product of their plastic parts. That’s especially horrifying when you consider the frequency that dogs swallow parts of their toys.

Bamboo pet products in general are a great alternative to lots of plastic pet supplies. The best thing about bamboo dog toys is that if your pup plays rough enough to retire the toys, they can be composted right in your own homeWagging Green Pet Shop on Etsy makes bamboo squeak and tug toys.

Stuffed animals may not be the most dog-proof toy as we’ve discovered, but sometimes dogs want something soft and cuddly. We bought a bunch of second hand options from a charity shop down the road. You can also try making your own out of old cotton or hemp fabric scraps, organic and compostable once it inevitably meets its maker.  For Australians, Biome sells some so-ugly-they’re-adorable hemp plush toys.

For chewers, consider toys such as hemp rope tugs (available U.S.U.K. and A.U.) and gum bones. Chewber makes an ultra durable eco-friendly chew toy out of natural rubber, made right in the USA. We own a couple of Kongs (super duper durable) which are also made of natural rubber and provide hours and hours of fun, especially if you pack some frozen treats in them 🙂 Honestly, the Kongs have (so far) been the best zero waste option as our boy has not been able to destroy them  (not from a lack of trying!)

Frisbees are actually a great dog toy, too.  Even though frisbees are plastic, they’re super durable and typically have naked packaging. You might even have one already lying around. If not, Kong makes a natural rubber flying disk god toy which is on our wish list!

And remember, zero waste dog toys don’t have to be fancy or break the bank. They can be as simple as a good old fashioned stick (which has actually worked so well for us)!  There’s no prouder accomplishment for a dog than finding the biggest best stick around.

8. KEEP YOUR CANINE CLEAN THROUGH ZERO WASTE DOG GROOMING

Bamboo Dog Grooming
Still hates getting brushed - even if his brush is top quality and made from bamboo

You may know from our zero waste beauty articles (like this one and this one) that we love bars. Imagine how thrilled we were to discover they make zero waste dog shampoo specific bars! Taavi on the other hand… less so.

Etsy has tons of great dog shampoo bar options. Per our approach to sustainable beauty, we would look for  to look for cruelty-free, vegan, palm oil free and natural options.

After you get them all squeaky clean, brush out their fur with a high quality, bamboo dog brush. Even if your dog isn’t a “high maintenance” breed, brushing is important for hygiene as well as handsomeness. It can help get out thorns, burrs, fleas, and other potentially irritating things that get stuck there. Plus bamboo dog brushes have totally compostable handles if (and that’s a big if) they ever wear out.

9. EVEN WALKS CAN BE ZERO WASTE!

Zero Waste Dog Leads
Image by Dog Patch SF - Click To head to the Ropes for Rescue Website

Instead of synthetic and non recyclable nylon collars and leashes, shop for sustainable fabrics.  Hemp is a great example that’s more durable than cotton but still totally compostable if it gets chewed through. Biome offers lovely hemp and cork collars.

Another awesomely sustainable material is bamboo.  You can find bamboo dog collars, bamboo dog harnessesand bamboo leashes on Etsy.

If you’d rather not buy something new, there are lots of leashes made from recycled materials. Particularly climbing ropes! For safety reasons, rock climbers must recycle their ropes every five or so years (or if they’ve seen a lot of wear or damage). Luckily, there are lots of companies willing to take them in and give them a second life, like Wilder Dog, Mountain Dog, and Ropes for Rescue.

The latter is particularly cool. This California based company not only asks for the story beyond the rope to pass on, but the climber that donates it gets to pick an animal rescue of choice. 10% of the leashes made from that rope get donated there. They’ve now donated to almost 200 different global rescues.

10. ZERO WASTE DOG BEDS AND KENNELS SO YOU CAN SEND WASTE TO THE DOGHOUSE

Eco Friendly Dog Beds made from Recycled Water Bottles - Image by Harry Barker
Image by Harry Barker

Synthetic fiber filled beds, plastic kennels and houses… The horrors of canine housing! Before  buying any form of bedding or housing, consider your dog’s needs. Our boy sleeps inside and prefers the floor… no bedding necessary! 

If you do need to buy and can’t find anything appropriate secondhand… again we look to wonderfully regenerative bamboo dog products for solutions here.

For outside based dogs, or for just an outside retreat, you can get a bamboo dog house. As the house weathers and eventually breaks down, compost it! Alternatively, you could build your own zero waste dog house out of reclaimed or recycled wood.

Inside, make your pup cozy with one of so many sustainable dog mattresses out there.  Certified B-corp West Paw Design’s Montana Nap series plush pads are stuffed with their patented IntelliLoft stuffing, which is made entirely from recycled plastic bottles!  Find them on Amazon U.S., U.K. and A.U.

Similar brands that sell organic fabric outers with recycled bottles are Harry BarkerGreener PupP.L.A.Y., and Big Shrimpy (which also recycles their dog beds for free if you send them in).

Bamboo dog beds are a somewhat new concept that can be tricky to find.  Essentially, you’re looking for some sort of bamboo fiber cushion.

You can even make your own zero waste dog bed out of scrap hemp, cotton, or hessian (check with local coffee shops to see if they have any coffee bags they’ll donate or sell to you).  

 Make you own bamboo dog bed by using something like bamboo fiber sheets and sewing it into a pillow. For zero waste kennels, bamboo isn’t much of a solution because it isn’t totally chew-proof. Your best bet here is just an all metal kennel that will last indefinitely.

FINAL THOUGHTS ON ZERO WASTE DOG CARE

Zero Waste dog toys
Our Kongs have outlasted all the others!

For even more info on ways you can keep Spot sustainable, as well as cats and other pets, check out Darcy Matheson’s book,  Greening Your Pet Care: Reducing Your Animal’s Environmental Pawprint.

We hope this guide helps in your journey toward zero waste pet parenting. While it is challenging to achieve sustainability with a big slobbery but oh-so-cute ball of fur, we promise it’s rewarding. Send us cute pictures of your zero waste pet and let us know of any eco friendly dog products you love or pro parenting tips you’ve picked up! 

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