We are all animal lovers here in the UK. There are estimates that put our populations of pet dogs at 12 and a half million. Cats aren’t far behind at 12.2 million. We now have a good understanding of how to minimize our carbon footprint. But, how do we minimize the impact our pets have on the environment? Especially considering the enormous amounts living alongside us.
What are the impacts?
We first need to look at some of the ways that our pets impact the environment. Cats are obligate carnivores and dogs are omnivorous this means meat and animal products make up a significant part of their diet. We know that the production of animal products emits large amounts of green house gases, and much of the dry foods that are fed to dogs and cats are filled out with grains such as wheat, maize, and rice. A study conducted at the University of Edinburgh found that annual global dry pet food production is associated with 56-151 million tons of CO2, 41-58 million hectares of agricultural land use and, 5-11km3 freshwater use. The impacts are equivalent to an environmental footprint around twice the UK land area.
Dr Peter Alexander, School of GeoSciences and Global Academy of Agriculture and Food Security at Edinburgh University, said: “Even accounting for the use of by-products in pet foods, the feeding of companion animals plays a role in environmental change. This is a topic that has been previously overlooked, but we have shown that pets and how they are feed should be considered alongside other actions to reduce climate change and biodiversity loss.” Source: University of Edinburgh
Now, let’s look at dog poo bags, these bags are typically manufactured from polyethylene. This is a kind of plastic with tens of millions of tons produced worldwide each year. The fossil fuel and plastic industries are connected as the production of plastic is reliant of the continued extraction of oil and gas. These bags take thousands of years to break down into microplastics and may also end up in our oceans.
Similarly cat litter can have a significant impact on the environment. Cat litter is usually made of clay or other minerals. The extraction of these minerals involves mining. This means areas are cleared of vegetation, displacing the wildlife and the topsoil is then removed. The mineral sediments can also end up polluting watercourses damaging wildlife there. Clay cat litter is not biodegradable and the majority of this waste will end up in landfills where it will likely stay for thousands of years.
How do we minimize our pets impact?
Luckily there are some easy changes we can be making to help minimize our pets impact on the planet, more and more pet owners are starting to feed their companions insect based pet foods. Protix based in Holland claims to have the worlds biggest insect farm and estimates compared with beef, insect-based foods use 2% of the land, and 4% of the water per kg of protein. The insects are fed on human food waste and the farm can grow 1 tonne of insects on 20 sq. m in 14 days. There is no need for fertiliser, or pesticides and the insects produce very low levels of emissions.
The British Veterinary Association says some insect-based foods may be better for pets than prime steak.
When it comes to the issue of dog poop bags there are now alternatives made from eco-friendly materials such as starch, cellulose, and vegetables, meaning we don’t need to rely on plastics and the extraction of fossil fuels. Some of these bags are compostable, and under the right conditions completely biodegrade after 6 months. Just make sure they won’t be used on edible plots. If you are disposing of the waste through your household waste bin it will likely end up in a landfill or an incineration plant, however due to the fact these bags are made from renewable resources they are less damaging to the environment during the manufacturing process and during their break down when compared to polyethylene bags.
There are now a large range of sustainable cat litter brands which make use of materials such as recycled compressed newspapers, wood pellets from sustainable forestry operations, farmed grains such as wheat and corn, and sawdust. These products are more environmentally sustainable than mining operations which are used to produce clay and mineral based litters and are biodegradable and compostable. As earlier, composted pet waste should be used on lawns and non-edible crops such as a rose garden.
Lastly, there are carbon offsetting schemes that you can sign up to. Often these are are schemes that for a fee, will plant trees that will balance out the carbon you are releasing into the atmosphere.