Pet parents flock to stores to buy the best foods, toys and other products for their furry friends. However, many don’t realize how much this industry contributes to a growing waste problem. If you want to live a more sustainable life, discover some key issues within the pet sector and learn ways to lessen your environmental impact.
Experts estimate that pet food and treat packaging create 300 million pounds of plastic waste each year in the U.S. alone. Plus, most of those packages are unrecyclable, meaning they end up in landfills or pollute waterways. To calculate your contribution to the problem, consider everything you buy your pet each month. What do you do with each package once it’s empty? If you said, “Toss it in the trash,” you’re not alone.
Fortunately, you can take steps to mitigate this problem. For starters, look for brands that use sustainable and biodegradable packaging options. You can also opt for dog food brands and stores that offer recycling programs. One brand, Pet Food Experts, has designed a program where they collect used packaging and upcycle it into new products. These products then get donated to animal shelters in the U.S.
Pet food itself contributes to sustainability concerns, too. If you opt for human-grade foods, like many pet owners, you add extra pressure to an already strained global food system, which will struggle to feed an estimated 9 billion people within the next 30 years.
To mitigate this effect, you can opt for pet food that uses animal byproducts — highly nutritious parts of chickens, cows and other livestock that humans prefer not to eat. These foods are more sustainable than those made with only human-grade ingredients. You can also look at foods that replace animal protein with plant protein, which requires less water and energy to produce.
Years ago, people used to pick up their pets’ necessities in brick-and-mortar stores. Today, more people are using e-commerce and delivery services to purchase and collect their pet products. For many, the ability to get items delivered directly to their door is extremely convenient. However, transportation via trucks, planes and ships is a major contributor to carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions, which warm the Earth’s atmosphere and lead to long-term climate change.
You can’t completely eliminate your CO2 output when it comes to purchasing pet items. However, you can reduce your contribution. Instead of buying things online, travel to your local store — preferably on foot or bicycle. Traveling via public transit is also eco-friendlier than driving your car. Look for stores that source products locally, as large chains tend to ship items internationally.
Beyond pet products and how they make their way into consumers’ homes, pet brands should also look at their internal operations. In one 2018 report of 250 pet industry professionals, 91% said they expect demand for sustainable companies to increase over the next five years. Still, 36% had no sustainability program in place. Of those that had such a program, only 23% believed it was effective.
Brands that want to develop green initiatives must begin by educating their employees on sustainable practices. They should analyze their supply chain and make targeted choices when it comes to packaging, source materials and transportation. They should also study other pet companies that are making a positive impact on the environment.
The Future of Sustainability in the Pet Industry
We all love our furry friends. However, our pet-related purchases — including food, treats and toys — contribute to a waste problem that we must address. Once you understand the issues surrounding sustainability, make conscious choices to minimize your impact.