Green is the new black, as far as the majority of Vancouverites are concerned. Locally sourced, organic produce has become a dinnertime staple; recycling is a way of life; and composting is a well-respected pastime. And the mere mention of plastic water bottles is enough to elicit at least a few judgmental side eyes.
When it comes to our pets, however, Darcy Matheson, author of Greening Your Pet Care: Reduce Your Animal’s Environmental Paw-Print, asserts that we may not be as eco-friendly as we think. “We buy a lot of plastic products for our pets. We feed them meaty diets, and then there’s all the poop that they leave behind,” she tells the Straight by phone. “So, they’re like these little polluters.”
Ahead of an author event at Book Warehouse (4118 Main Street) this Monday (June 27) for her new tome—which offers easy tricks for minimizing your pets’ carbon footprints—Matheson shares her tips on how to green up your pet-care regimen for the betterment of both your health and theirs—and the environment.
Our lives are littered with single-use, nonbiodegradable plastics. And just as we’ve made an effort to rid our kitchens, bathrooms, and workspaces of them, they should be removed from our pet care as well.
“Put your pet on a plastic diet,” Matheson stresses. “Go through and look at the products that you have and see if you can find something that’s a greener alternative.”
Plastic feeding bowls, for example, should be replaced with pieces made from stainless steel or a natural material like bamboo, hemp, or rubber. The same no-plastic mantra should be applied to your pets’ toys, clothing, and accessories—check out the 100-percent-upcycled-cotton pet beds by Vancouver’s Handsome Mountain Pet Supplies (select styles on sale from $70 online). Plastic packaging and liners in pet food should also be avoided.
Not only will this prevent nonrenewable resources from piling up in landfills, but you’ll be protecting your two- and four-legged friends from polyvinyl chloride, bisphenol A, and phthalates, potentially hazardous chemicals commonly found in plastics.
Although it may be unrealistic to feed your pets a completely vegan or vegetarian diet, you can help significantly reduce their carbon footprint by substituting other options for beef.
“Out of all the meats produced for pet food, beef is the most polluting and environmentally draining of them all when it comes to land and water resources,” Matheson says.
What does this impact look like in numbers? According to a 2012 report by the United Nations Environment Programme, beef leads animal byproducts in greenhouse-gas emissions, with approximately 22.6 kilograms of Earth-affecting gases released for every one kilogram of meat produced. This makes livestock farming one of the largest contributors to climate change.
As a result, Matheson suggests opting for kibble, wet food, and pet treats that use chicken, turkey, or sustainably harvested fish as a primary protein. Open Farm Canada, for example, makes pet foods (from $26.99 for two kilograms at various pet stores) using ethically sourced, naturally raised meats and OceanWise seafood. If you own a cat or dog, you can also put them on a raw diet, which increases the likelihood that their grub is being produced and sold locally.
Clean up after your pet
This may seem like rule number one in the pet-parenting handbook—if you own a pup, at least—but Matheson found in her research that an astonishing 97,000 tonnes of dog waste is left in Metro Vancouver parks every year. This poses a range of health risks for humans and animals, who may develop gastrointestinal illnesses, diarrhea, skin sores, and chest pain when exposed to the waste through open waters.
“People assume if you’re at the park or beach or something, you can just leave your pets’ poop there and it’ll be washed away with the rain,” Matheson says. “Actually, what happens is it gets washed down to drains, and it can contaminate lakes, marine life, and drinking-water sources.”
Simply picking up the doo, however, doesn’t preclude harmful contact with others and the Earth. To prevent contamination in landfills, use either a biodegradable poop bag, which can be flushed down the toilet, or a compostable sack that can be tossed in a compost bin.
It’s no secret that store-bought cleaning and beauty items are packed with toxic chemicals, allergens, and other irritants that may be doing your body—and the environment—more harm than good. The same goes for pet-grooming related goods.
“We think a lot about products we use for ourselves, but we don’t really think about the products we use for our animals,” Matheson notes. As with household cleaners and sunscreens, synthetic fragrances—which may contain many of thousands of allergy-, migraine-, and asthma-triggering chemicals—are the top ingredients to avoid.
Instead, look for soaps and fur- and hair-care items that are made from natural elements. We love the East Vancouver–based Black Sheep Organics, which produces cruelty-free and vegan dog shampoos, ear wash, and toothpaste (from $12 at various pet stores) using coconut oil, shea butter, essential oils, and other plant-based components.
The liquids are also biodegradable, so they won’t hurt waters and wildlife when washed down drains.
Opt for pet adoptions
According to Matheson, the most important—and, arguably, easiest—thing you can do to ensure an eco-friendly pet life is to adopt. “There are so many great companion animals in shelters, so I think this step is the greenest of all,” she says.
In a 2014 report, the Canadian Federation of Humane Societies estimated that shelters across Canada took in more than 85,000 cats and about 38,000 dogs that year. Twenty-seven percent of those cats and 11 percent of those dogs were euthanized. Adopting, rather than utilizing breeders, means you can rescue one of these animals in need while saying no to abusive practices, such as puppy mills, that lead to overpopulation.
“You’re saving that pet from the shelter, and you’re also freeing up space for another one to be taken in,” Matheson says, “so it’s kind of like the ultimate recycling.”