First published November 2006, last updated April 2013
Imagine how much dog poo winds up being improperly disposed of each year. It certainly would be in the millions of tonnes.
Until relatively recently, dog poop wasn’t considered a huge biological hazard, except for in rare cases causing a disease called Toxicarias.
Scientists are have been reconsidering that notion after having made disturbing discoveries such as bacteria levels being so high at some beaches that people have to stay out of the water. One of the culprits that has been found to significantly raise the bacteria levels is dog poop.
It’s not just from the nuggets on the beaches, but runoff from stormwater drains after that water has come into contact with the poop. Some of the bacteria harbored in dog poo includes E. coli, salmonella and giardia. Nutrients in dog poop can also be washed into other waterways and contribute to algal blooms.
Other than that, dog poo is just plain gross and pollutes our parks and sidewalks.
Some people put dog poop into their worm farms, which works fine, although it’s not recommended that you then use the worm castings from the farm in your vegetable garden. General composting is also an option, but again, the compost shouldn’t be applied to your veggie patch.
The doggy loo
The other alternative aside from burying it in your garden or dumping dog poop into your bin is to consider installing a dog toilet, aka a doggy loo. These are buckets with holes in the bottom you place into the ground on a bed of stones and then add an enzyme to which will break down the poop. When the bucket is full, you simply pour water into it and the broken down materials will flush away. There’s no risk to your plants, so you can have the bucket hidden away in your garden.
You can buy a doggy loo already made up or create one yourself for just a few dollars using these very simple instructions. If you can’t find a septic treatment starter they recommend on the page, even active enzyme drain cleaner will do – it just consists of the “good” bacteria needed and is available at just about any hardware store. If you get the pellets, I’d recommend about a teaspoon dissolved in a cup of water thrown in every month or so to keep the bacteria colony fresh.
You can also combine a worm farm with a doggy loo – just use worms instead of enzyme starter. The worm population will adjust to the level of poop provided. If you live in an area subject to extreme temperatures (cold or heat), take this into account when choosing a location. However, composting worms are quite tolerant of a wide range of temperatures and the earth surrounding the bin can act as an insulator, while the contents will generate some heat.
When walking your dog.
Most of us have seen it happen, somebody walking their dog and Fido decides to take a dump – and the owner doesn’t clean up afterwards.
This nearly happened to me when I moved to my current location. It’s a tiny town and I was keen to make a good first impression with local folks. I took Niki The Wonder Dog for a walk down the street and the first thing she did was to do her business smack-bang in the middle of someone’s driveway – and I was without a bag! Thankfully the general store was just a hundred meters away where I managed to get some bags and clean up before her deposit was spotted (I hope).
Many people carry plastic bags with them, which is great – but unfortunately standard plastic bags aren’t all that earth friendly and take years to break down.
There are biodegradable/degradable bags on the market designed just for this purpose. Animal Management Services produces three types of 100% degradable dog waste bags that break down when subjected to light, heat and or moisture. These are somewhat different to biodegradable bags that rely on living micro-organisms to break down.
According to Evan from AMS, who was kind enough to provide me with some added info and bags some years ago, their GREEN bag is starch based and will break down in landfill in approx 90 days. Their BLACK bag (pictured above) is produced with EPI additive. When exposed to sunlight or heat the additive triggers a two step degradation process, in which the plastic breaks down through oxidation into small fragments, which then biodegrade into the natural elements of carbon dioxide, water, biomass and minerals. The degrading process for the black bag is approximately one year.
I’m assuming that the black bag, like most other many other plastics, is petrochemical based – so their green bag would be the one considered by many as being the more environmentally friendly option. It’s a little difficult to accurately say which is more “green” as even starch based plastics require petrochemicals along the way – plus herbicides, pesticides and other chemicals in the manufacturing process. It’s a complex area; but either option is still far better than a standard plastic bag; unless it’s one you were going to throw out anyway.
While Animal Management Services supplies only to the Australian market, there are similar products available in just about every country now. If you’re having problems locating these doggy-doo bags, also check out your local supermarket as a range of degradable/biodegradable plastic bags are now quite common in larger stores; but are just being sold for general use rather than dog waste specific.
As for lasting in storage, I can say degradable bags perform well. I was provided with my bags in late 2006 and more than 6 years later, the ones I have left are still as strong as the day I got them. The key is to store them at room temperature; or as close to it as possible. A bag I left in my truck for a few months broke down into a bazillion pieces due to heat.
Another interesting product is SkooperBox:
Made from 100% recycled paper, the box is flat to begin with and using the special leash clip, very convenient. When your dog does its bit whilst out on the walk, pop open the box, scoop up the poop, close the box and hang back on the leash clip ready for disposal. You can learn more about SkooperBox here (USA).
We can make playtime a little more environmentally friendly for our furry four legged friends too – but ‘caveat emptor’ ( buyer beware) certainly applies when it comes to dog toys; whether they are touted as being green or not.
According to the 2011-2012 American Pet Products Association (APPA) National Pet Owners Survey, 62% of U.S. households own a pet – so nearly 73 millions homes.
The U.S. pet industry is massive and during 2012, an estimated $52.87 billion will have been spent on pet upkeep in the U.S.
Even pet toys can have a noticeable impact on the wallet; with US dog owners each spending on average around 43 bucks a year on playthings for their canine pals.
The impact goes beyond the hip pocket of course – many of the toys come at a cost to the environment and perhaps even dog health.
I’m often tempted to pick up something for Niki The Wonder Dog; but I tend to resist for a couple of reasons other than financial.
The first is she’ll likely grow bored with the toy quickly and the second is the garbage many of these toys are made from – plastics, dyes and such. It’s just something else that will ultimately wind up in the waste stream and perhaps even be additional poison for the planet as well as my pooch.
Niki is getting on a bit, so toys aren’t a big issue these days and a simple yellow ball that has been hanging around the place for years seems to keep her interested when she could be bothered with playing.
Of course, not all dogs are as sedate (lazy) as Niki – or as gentle on toys as she is.
I know of a Staffordshire terrier/Rottweiler cross that loves to play and will destroy pretty much any toy given to her; and very quickly. If no toys are available, she’ll then start on household items.
Given the destruction that can be borne of doggie boredom, there’s definitely a need for dog toys – but like most things these days, there needs to be more of a focus on quality rather than quantity.
I shudder to think the amount of pet toy waste is collectively generated by the 78 million or so pet dogs in the USA each year and these toys – regardless of what they are primarily made of, may also contain toxic payloads not mentioned in their description.
Research carried out at Texas Tech University found the hormone-altering chemicals Bisphenol A (BPA) and phthalates in a variety of dog toys. These chemicals have been of particular concern in recent years in relation to humans. The EPA says BPA is a reproductive, developmental, and systemic toxicant in animal studies.
While BPA is not persistent in the environment, the problem is we are – and everything else is too – being exposed to so much of it.
Other nasties known to be present in some dog toys include lead, arsenic, chlorine, cadmium, chromium and bromine.
A search I ran today on ‘eco friendly pet toys’ showed there are now many products available made with natural, recycled or recyclable materials; but you’ll need to be careful.
I was going to recommend a particular brand of well-known (and rather expensive) chew toy I’m familiar with that is made of what the manufacturer refers to as ‘ natural rubber’ – but then the BPA and phthalate issues sprang to mind. The manufacturer’s site mentions very little about environmental/health issues relating to the materials they use except in very broad terms.
This isn’t a good sign as “BPA-Free” is a huge selling point these days – most companies would declare this in their promotional materials as it would help give them an edge over a competitor.
As with any other product you would buy with the planet (and health) in mind; ask questions before parting with your cash. Bear in mind the details left out of any product description are where the problems may be. Ask pointed questions and treat responses that don’t properly address them as a red flag. By doing so, it also helps to send a message to dog toy manufacturers that they may need to lift their game in order to attract eco-savvy customers.
(First published May 2008, updated June 2010)
Recycling pets doesn’t mean turning your cat into a bird or your dog into a ferret, but it is a wonderful green way to approach the acquisition of your next animal companion. Environmental issues aside, it’s also a very humane choice.
My first “job” was as a volunteer at an animal shelter at the age of 11. At that time, I had my heart set on becoming a vet. Such was my passion and commitment, besides the usual walking and cleaning duties of a volunteer, the staff at the shelter allowed me to participate in cruelty callouts, minor surgical procedures and the destruction and disposal of animals. I got to see it all and participate in much of it – the good, the bad and the horrid. Even at that age I understood that being a vet wasn’t going to be easy and I really wanted to be prepared.
To this day, the memories of the cruelty I witnessed inflicted by others on animals and the sadness of ending the life of animals who did nothing wrong except to be born stays with me. There is absolutely no way I can describe the feeling of injecting a puppy who trusts you with a substance that will kill it a few seconds later. The puppy licking you or wanting to play with you, the squeal as the hypodermic pierces its skin, then the eyes fogging over before the puppy goes limp. I still tear up at this memory of over two and a half decades ago.
After euthanizing the animals, we’d then throw them into the incinerator. I’ll also never forget the smell and the tar that would leak out from the base of the incinerator; or shovelling the ashes of the animal I killed once it was done – the little bones could still be seen.
This is the reality of the results of unbridled pet “consumption”. This is the result of human ignorance and cruelty in relation to the animals we are responsible for. No matter which country or city you live in, there’s a massive extermination going on of animals who have been neglected and thrown out like trash – literally millions of dogs and cats are euthanized annually. Living, breathing and feeling creatures.
What the shelters, pounds and animal societies do in their destruction is not the problem – it’s the end result of an oversupply of living creatures that don’t fit in with our demands or who have been born because their owners didn’t get the animal neutered.
Humanitarian issues aside, the environmental impact of these unwanted animals is huge. They have to eat, be sheltered and even the destruction process is resource intensive. Animals that turn feral wreak a heavy toll on the environment, killing billions of native animals a year. It’s just a terrible and tragic waste any way you look at it.
While there are no-kill shelters around; these are often operating at capacity. Too many people are buying their pets from breeders instead of obtaining pets from these sources.
Get a recycled pet!
One of the great misconception about getting an animal from a shelter is that they are “damaged goods”. Sure, some of the animals have been physically or emotionally scarred; but there’s no guarantee that an animal you buy from a breeder won’t be. Some of the puppy mills around keep animals in horrid conditions. Regardless of where you get an animal from; there’s always a risk of neuroticism or other behavior disturbances – but a good home and caring owners often do wonders for a neglected animal. In the case of dogs, they just want to be part of a pack – and will seek your acceptance by behaving appropriately with a little training and time.
If you’re into recycling, why not considered a “recycled” pet from a shelter? You’ll be getting an animal that has likely been immunized and spayed (or will be) included in the price. The dog or cat would have also been screened to a degree to see if it is able to assimilate into a new home. The money from your purchase will go towards the incredible work they do in trying to keep animals *out* of the incinerator I referred to.
The staff at shelters have often had the opportunity to observe the behavior of the animals brought in, so they can tell you if the pet appears to be house trained, would likely fit into a family who has young children or would be better with a single adult owner.
I can’t really think of a more environmentally friendly way of acquiring a pet than one that’s been tossed aside by another thoughtless human. When you obtain a pet via these means, you’re not only cutting down on the demand for “new” pets to be bred, but you’ll also be saving a life of another animal.
For some people though, the thought of going to a shelter is too heart-wrenching. I’ve seen some people go to a shelter and leave very upset because they wanted to take home all the animals.
If going to a shelter on a browsing expedition is just not for you, there’s online services where you can search through listings of pets available for adoption. These services are different from breeder’s classifieds as the listings are published by responsible owners who may not be able to maintain their pet any longer, but want to ensure it goes to a good home. Shelters also tend to publish listings of their current cases via these services.
Similarly, if you’re a pet owner and find yourself in a position whereby you can’t care for your animal, these online services can help match you to someone else who will take good care of your companion. Don’t dump your animal on the roadside hoping that someone will take care of it – it likely won’t happen. Don’t take your animal to a shelter if you can avoid it as you’ll only be placing added burden on these establishments that are usually running on empty as it is. Shelters are the the very final option, please try to do some legwork first by seeking out a new owner yourself.
One such service is DogTime, which currently lists over 30,000 dogs available for adoption in the USA. You can search for adult dogs or puppies, specific breeds and listings within your local area. The site also offers a ton of useful advice on being a responsible dog owner. Another service is PetFinder; which operates in the same fashion and in addition to dogs, also lists birds, cats, horses, pig, rabbits, reptile and other small and furry creatures.
I’m not aware of any similar online services outside the USA, so if you know of one in your country, I’d greatly appreciate you leaving a comment below or perhaps you might like to share your experiences of owning a “recycled” pet.
Note from Michael: the following information was provided by the merchant. Attention green businesses, do you have a special coupon or discount offer you’d like showcased on Green Living Tips? Learn more here.
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Have you ever considered how the decision you make for your pet can affect both him, and his world? A few simple changes in your buddy’s routine can have a dramatic impact.
Here are seven tips for acting globally, which benefit our animal companions, too.
Refrain from using chemicals in your yard.
Weed & Insect killers can adversely affect your pet’s health and have a detrimental effect on wildlife, too. A wonderful alternative is to introduce natural predators to the bugs you want to eliminate. You can purchase beneficial predator insects to release in your yard or encourage them in the following ways:
• Plant a variety of flowering plants, especially ones with small flowers rich in nectar. Mix up your plants so those that attract beneficial insects are nearby those that need protection.
• Place plants close together to provide a moist, shaded environment for beneficial insects who dehydrate easily.
Wash your dog less.
Over shampooing can dry your companion’s skin excessively, contributing to itchiness. Less frequent washing will help to maintain the natural oils in the skin, keep the pH in balance and also conserve gallons of water at the same time.
Think Twice about Flea and Tick meds.
These topical preparations are laden with pesticides that can harm your companion in more ways than one. They deplete the immune system and compromise over all health. In fact they’re so toxic that people shouldn’t come in contact with them at all.
Try adding Brewer’s Yeast and Garlic to your companion’s meals, or use an essential oil combination to repel unwanted bugs. Pennyroyal is an excellent herbal repellent but should never be used around pregnant pets or peeps.
Heating and cooling
Turn down the thermostat on your freezer by a degree or two if you can. Many households operate their freezers and refrigerators on the coldest possible setting. Often the temperature can be raised slightly without any detrimental effects – helping to reduce electricity usage quite significantly. The same goes for household heating and cooling.
Your dog’s health & skin condition will be better without extreme heat and air conditioning, and moving the thermostat 3 degrees down in winter and up in summer can prevent the emission of nearly 1100 lbs of carbon dioxide per household, annually.
Plant your own herbs.
A herb garden can be as simple as a few select species in a window box. Having your own botanicals on hand might help eliminate the need for chemical preparations (aloe and calendula are great for cuts and scrapes; parsley helps digestion and lavender or chamomile can be dried to use as natural relaxants). Living herbs produce oxygen which helps to cancel out some of the carbon dioxide we all emit into the environment.
Choose natural cleaners and detergents.
Reducing the chemicals in your companion’s immediate living space can help to combat contact allergies when he sleeps on surfaces that have been cleaned with chemical products. Itchy feet and a red belly can be a sign that something is aggravating your pet.
The Honest Kitchen offers healthy, dehydrated pet foods; there’s no cooking and no freezers required, and they use 100% organic grains, hormone / antibiotic-free meats and non-GMO produce. Have a question about earth friendly pet care and diet? Ask Lucy below!
In ancient Egypt, cats were revered as gods.. and they’ve never forgotten it. Such is our affection for our feline friends that they can run amok, creating havoc in the environment; and sometimes the line of master/pet can get blurred. Here’s some simple things you can do to green your moggie – whether it likes it or not :).
Over 90 million cats are owned by 60 million households in the USA, there’s over 3 million domestic cats in Australia, 9 million in the UK, 47 million in Europe and 4.5 million in Canada (approximate figures from various sources). That’s a whole heap of kitties.
Protect wildlife from your cat.
Cats may make for wonderful companions and excellent mousers, but they also exact a heavy toll on native animals. Cats are hunters – period.
Many cat owners might think their cat is not a hunter; but it’s part of the magic spell that felines cast upon their human slaves :). If your cat is allowed to go outside, unless it is obese or on its last legs – it will hunt; it’s just natural.
Based on the figures I mentioned above, if each domestic cat kills even just one native animal a year; the toll is incredible – over 150 million creatures destroyed. Let’s say the average hunting lifespan of each cat was 10 years; that comes to 1.5 billion native animals killed.
In most countries, dogs aren’t allowed to roam and I’ve often wondered why cats are. Dog owners can be hit with heavy fines for allowing their pets to stray. It seems a little unfair to me that cats aren’t subject to the same laws; especially given their killer instincts.
If you must let your cat outside, ensure it wears a bell as this will help alert animals to the cat’s presence. A bell shouldn’t give you a false sense of security that your cat is now nature friendly and able to roam as it pleases. I’ve seen cats learn to hunt without causing the bell to ring and actually use the bell to create confusion in their prey. It’s pretty amazing stuff. So, on top of the bell, try to limit the amount of time your cat spends outside.
Another solution, albeit more costly, is to create an enclosure along the lines of a bird aviary. You’re probably imagining a large cage with poor old Mr. Tiddles sitting dejectedly inside; but by adding toys and levels within the enclosure, cats seem to really enjoy it while also benefiting from the fresh air.
Leash train your cat
Although I’ve never attempted it; it appears that cats can also be leash trained – it’s another option to consider if you’d like your cat to get some exercise outdoors but want to protect native wildlife.
This is a subject I’ve covered in another article; but just briefly, most cat litter isn’t the byproduct of another process. The clay used is purpose-mined using strip mining techniques. Strip mining is where heavy machinery rips up the top layer of earth to get to a seam of a special type of clay. The seam is often quite thin, so large areas have been destroyed as a result. Some more environmentally friendly options for cat litter include:
– Silica pearls
– Newspaper (check for ink toxicity)
– Corn cobs that have been ground up
– Straw pellets
– Pine sawdust from mill waste
– Kenaf pellets (a type of hibiscus)
– Other cellulose fiber products
Here in Australia, small cans of tinned food are quite popular. These are often portrayed as “luxury” type foods that your cat will love you for buying. These tiny tins seem to almost weigh as much as the food they contain! While steel tins can and should always be recycled, a great deal of energy is needed to produce them, and more again to recycle them; so try to buy larger cans if it means that nothing will go to waste and you won’t overfeed as a result.
Some manufacturers have moved to using small plastic containers – these trays add to landfill clutter, are made of toxic materials, take many years to break down and require crude oil in their production.
Buying dried cat food in cardboard boxes can save you a great deal of money and the environment substantial waste over the lifetime of your pet. Since originally publishing this article, I’ve been told that dry cat food may present some health issues if it’s used exclusively; so perhaps break the usage up a bit – wet food some days, dry food others. Given there does seem to be a lot of debate as to the suitability of dry food; the best bet is to consult your vet on nutrition issues for your cat as its general health can also play a role in the recommended level of dry food.
Toys, bedding and accessories
As with childrens toys, our affection for pets tends to see us buying a lot of toys for our cats. Often these items are toxic chemical ladened plastics and given the tendency for cats to chew on toys, that’s not such a good thing. As with children, a cat will tire of the toy after a while and it becomes just another piece of non-biodegrable junk.
Bedding is often made of plastic and synthetic fiber. Flame retardants used in many plastics have also been linked to an increase in thyroid disease in cats. Look for toys and bedding made from natural fibers raised organically and processed without harsh chemicals and dyes.
Neutering, aka spaying, your cat is so, so, so important and I’m stating this from personal experience. Many years ago, I worked at the RSPCA (the equivalent of the SPCA in the US) as a volunteer. During my time there, I witnessed hundreds of healthy cats euthanized as nobody wanted them. At the time, I still had ambitions of becoming a vet, so I also participated in putting some of them “to sleep”.
I cannot describe the look in a healthy kitten’s eyes before it dies in this manner. There’s trust as you gently pick them up, then the squeal as the needle loaded with “green dream” (a barbituate) pierces the skin and is pushed into the liver, then confusion.. then death. It’s not pleasant. Neither is putting these little bodies into an incinerator, neither is emptying the ashes with the small broken bones scattered through it, neither is mopping up the tar from the fat from their bodies that leaks out of the incinerator.
Sometimes the kittens weren’t healthy; they would arrive half dead after being shoved into bags and dumped in stormwater drains. The cruelty I saw at times was mind-numbing. In these cases, the green dream needle was all we could give them to end their suffering.
For the dumped and stray kittens that survive and evade capture, they often become feral. In Australia, feral cats have a massive impact on the environment, killing many millions of native animals annually.
After just a couple of generations in the wild, feral cats are larger than domestic felines, well adapted to their surroundings and fierce hunters. We used to also deal with the ferals at the RSPCA and had a special shed to release them from the humane traps they arrived in. The procedure was to open the trap and then get the hell out of the shed as the cat would go nuts; literally bouncing off the walls. Only when it had exhausted itself did we re-enter; wearing protective clothing – these cats were extraordinarily aggressive. Back then, all these cats were destroyed and I believe that’s still the case today.
According to the Humane Society of the United States, between six and eight million dogs and cats enter U.S. shelters anually and some three to four million of these animals are euthanized. Imagine that – *millions* of dead animals; it’s tragic.
Unless you intend to breed from your pet and have the resources to do so responsibly; please, please have your cat spayed; it’s one of the greenest things you can do as a pet owner. If finances are a problem, ask your local humane societies about assistance – they’ll be aware of programs that may be able to partially or fully subsidize the cost.
If you’re thinking of acquiring a cat in the future; please consider checking out your local animal refuge first – you’ll likely save a kitten or cat’s life.
Owning pets is a great joy and responsibility – not only to the pet itself, but to the wider environment they affect.
I was quite shocked to discover that what we give our cats to do their business in (cat litter) wreaks a massive toll on the environment.
I don’t own a cat, but I do use kitty litter for other purposes – under the barbecue and soaking up some messes. I was looking at my bag of cat litter today and thinking “so, what’s in this stuff”?
The most common cat litter in use today is made from a natural clay, also known as “diatomaceous earth”, or sodium bentonite. It’s formed into pellets and then dried. The pellets absorb several times their dry weight in moisture.
I originally thought that whatever the substance was that made up kitty litter, it was most likely the by-product of some other process. Unfortunately, this type of clay is targeted by mining companies for this specific purpose; using a process called strip mining.
Strip mining is as the name implies. Heavy equipment strips off the top layer of earth to get to the seam of clay, which is often quite thin. Strip mining is an incredibly destructive process that has wiped out thousands upon thousands of acres of land and removed millions of tons of earth; just so that cats can take a dump or I can use it to sop up barbecue runoff. I’ve been reading stories of native lands being acquired and leaseholders kicked off land so that these mining companies can get to it. Rather disgusting isn’t it?
There’s not only that, but the dust from cat litter is made up of tiny silicon particles. The “bentonite” aspect of the clay is made up of aluminium phyllosilicate (crystalline silica). These silicon particles are a known carcinogen.
From what I’ve seen, to determine if a particular brand of kitty litter contains sodium bentonite, check the bag for mention of “natural clay” or if there are no details, then it most likely does.
So what are the alternatives?
For my barbecue, I guess I could use sand, and use it sparingly – only removing sections that became impregnated with oil. That would keep the usage down to about a kilo a year. If you own a cat, there’s various more earth friendly products available on the marketing including:
– Silica gel pearls (made from sand, no dust)
– Recycled newspaper that’s been compressed into pellets
– Ground corn cobs
– Extruded straw pellets
– Pine sawdust from lumber waste
– Kenaf plant pellets (a fast growing hibiscus)
– Other products made from cellulose fiber
Used cat litter can also be used in your garden as a mulch or fertilizer – although the idea of it laying on the surface may not appeal :). In that case, just dig a shallow hole and then cover it over.
Know of any other good earth friendly cat litter materials? Please add your comments below.