Companion animals are a little bit like kids. They make life better, empty your wallet, require a big commitment, bring insane amounts of joy and poop in your life and can unfortunately create a whole load of landfill, waste and a trail of single-use plastic. But, much like raising human babies as eco-consciously as possible, you can do the same for animals in your care with a little thought and planning.
I’m avoiding the term “zero waste pets” as it’s near impossible to create no waste at all, and this post is about the reality of putting 100% effort in as a busy working mum on a budget and getting the best results I can.
Although pouches are very convenient to use, billions of them EVERY YEAR end up in landfill making them as big a burden as single-use coffee cups
We already share our home with ex-laying rescue chickens (more on that here), our plant-based mixed-breed dog Poppy (her story here) and our cat-loving daughter Ruby. In March 2019 I received a call from Battersea Dogs and Cats Home saying they had a little female kitten who had been handed in with her mum and needed a home. One look at her photo and I just went to jelly – she was instantly part of our family. She was so tiny, like a little pea in a blanket pod. It was love at first photo.
Many sleepless nights were spent wondering how I was going to introduce cat and (a very needy) dog, but I also wanted to ensure that this whole process would be as waste-free as possible. Things that automatically sprang to mind were not using things like food pouches, choosing toys made from natural materials or those made from recycled fabrics rather than new plastic ones and reusing what we had from our old cat Austin who passed away a few years ago.
We had a month to plan while Ada was still weaning, so this gave me plenty of time to think ahead.
- What does a kitten need and how can we be as responsible as possible as consumers?
- What can be scrounged second-hand (ask family, friends, eBay, charity shops)?
- What, if bought new, can be found more eco-friendly?
My first piece of advice: do not go to a big pet shop – they see you coming and will try and sell you things you just don’t need, taking full advantage of your excitement of welcoming in your new cat.
Bed, collar and a name tag – We had these already. Even though the name tag has our old boy’s details on, my number is still the same which is the important bit. If you are looking for new collars, search for ones made from hemp, bamboo, organic cotton or recycled materials – cat collars must have a break away clip. Our dog has a great one made from an old inner tube. Try to purchase them from shelters so the profit goes back in to care for animals, not to line the pockets of huge pet stores – or support your small local seller/maker unless they sell and breed animals for profit. Remember to get your cat microchipped too – shelters will arrange all this for you.
Travel basket – We picked up a wicker and metal one for £5 from charity shop Scope. Cardboard baskets, even though free from plastic don’t tend to last long and can be clawed or chewed through so investing in a second hand wicker one is worth it. As well as charity shops, check eBay, Gumtree and Facebook Marketplace – you never know who has one they don’t need. One person’s trash is your treasure!
Scratching posts – We got one for £1 from our local charity shop – again plenty of them around or you could try making one yourself.
Activity area, aka Casa de Ada! – My daughter and I made this towering feline fort out of old cardboard boxes and plastic-free tape and had such a fun time doing so. It was free too, unlike cat trees which can cost rather a lot. Once it’s ripped to shreds, we will make another and recycle this with the rest of our household paper and card. No need to buy new – get creative! There are lots of YouTube clips with ideas and instruction on making your own – ideas here.
Water and food bowls and litter tray – Beco Pets very kindly gifted us this set. I purchased our dog’s bed and bowls from here in the past and love what they stand for. Their products are made from natural BPA-free recycled bamboo fibers left over from chopstick production that would otherwise be binned. How cool is that! Bamboo is also a very sustainable plant that grows in abundance.
Toys – Before you head out and spend your hard-earned, see how much fun a big paper bag can be – just make sure all tags and handles are removed. Again, they are free. Ada loves to chase a ball of paper around and the wrappers for Who Gives a Crap loo roll have a perfect crunchy sound. You can grab a small fallen branch/twig/garden cane to use as a rod and an old bit of cloth or twine for string with something fun at the end to chase. Just remember NEVER to leave kittens and cats unattended with things they could get tangled up in. Get creative – if you have kids it’s so much more fun to make. Use the cloth/twine to attach toys – do not glue.
Food – Although pouches are very convenient to use, billions of them EVERY YEAR end up in landfill. Friends of the Earth estimate only 1 in 20,000 are recycled, making them as big a burden as single-use coffee cups, and that is not acceptable. Other than tins, look for paper-wrapped dried food in bulk or companies that use recyclable aluminum trays and tins for wet food. Make sure you clean them before recycling or you may contaminate your recycling. I will do a separate post on what we are feeding her and how it fits in with us being ethical vegans.
Litter – I ordered some eco sand litter online but it comes in a plastic carrier so I’m not recommending it. I’m sure everyone is familiar with that feeling of frustration when you search and buy an eco product only for it to arrive wrapped in single-use plastic. I will update this section once I have found something better. Use poo bags that are compostable not biodegradable if you can (often these need special temperatures to break down). Beco do great compostable ones.
As with anything I share, I am just documenting our experience, and there are always improvements to be made and new products that come on to the market. Please email me at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have any tips or suggestions to make and this post will be updated with new exciting finds.
As long as we remain aware, we can search and support companies trying to offer products and services that are less harmful to us, our planet and other earthlings. My go-to check list before buying things:
- Can I get it second hand (or borrow it)?
- Who made it and how were they (and their community) treated?
- Will it got to landfill or do similar harm if it breaks, gets lost or is no longer needed?
- Were animals farmed, harmed and exploited for this product?
You will find you save yourself a lot of money as well as rubbish! It a win-win.
A little note to add about the importance of adopting animals that already exist and need a loving home. In the UK there are shelters at breaking point with animals found, surrendered and rescued desperate for loving homes all while breeders force females to produce litter after litter to make money. Once the mum is too old or worn out, their future is not always pleasant. Have a look around your local shelters and you will soon fall in love with your new family member as well as observe the fantastic work they do.
To donate to Battersea, click here
This post contains gifted items from Beco Pets: Litter tray, poo bags and feeding dish.