A Low Waste Dog: How Fido can Help Save the Planet

I’m back in NJ with the family. If you’ve read any of my other posts, you know they cause me eco-anxiety. Yesterday I went to the store with my nephews and whipped out my reusable bags at checkout, to the surprise and amusement of my nephew, Michael. He told me NJ has started charging for plastic bags at supermarkets and other stores (progress!). In my day to day life back in DC, I find myself comfortably settling into a low -waste lifestyle without plastic bags, single use paper towels, etc, but there is one thing I’ve yet to start working on: Lucy.

Lucy is my rambunctious chug (pug/chihuahua mix) who thinks of herself as queen of the block. One minute she’s unapologetically barking her head off and the next, she’d cuddling up beside you on the couch. She’s the devil in a pink collar and I love her to pieces. For the past few months, I’ve been struggling to come up with eco-friendly living solutions for the little mutt, and I think I’ve finally come up with a few good ones that will work for me. Let’s start with the most difficult: the poop.

The Poop Situation

Dog poop is the bane of my existence. From having to get up early to put on clothes and walk the pooch, to picking it up, to walking around with it in my hands. The whole thing is a drag, but the worst part is that each little turd requires a plastic bag that will end up in the landfill.

What doesn’t work for me

One option I looked extensively into was using compostable or biodegradable bags. This seemed like the most convenient option, considering biodegradable bags are very similar to plastic bags. The problem with this is that as soon as the bag goes into the trash and later the landfill, it loses any chance it had to biodegrade. Compostable bags might have worked for me if I had anywhere to compost them, but I live in apartment and I don’t have the space to compost dog poop (nor the desire frankly), and so using compostable bags would result in the same unfortunate fate as using regular plastic bags. Another option that I knew about but did not consider for myself was flushing dog poop down the toilet. I’ve heard mixed information on the viability of flushing dog poop without causing damage to the sewer systems and more importantly, I don’t want to bring dog poop into my house to flush it.

What absolutely no one should do is just leave the dog poop on the ground. Dog poop can carry nasty bacteria like E.Coli and harmful viruses. It can run into our water systems and hurt marine life, even affect our drinking water.

What’s worked

Substituting traditional plastic bags for paper products has worked really well for me. I use the supermarket coupons and local real estate newspapers that come to my house, cut them up into large squares and take on walks with me. I lay the square on top of the poop (with the poop centered), then scoop up and twist the paper to create a closed pouch. This method saves me money on bags, reuses something I already have, and saves me from the false hope that my compostable or biodegradable bags are saving the planet.

This is not the perfect solution, because of course I am still adding to the landfill, on the flip side, I am reducing my single use plastic consumption and contributing to the overall health and wellbeing of my neighbors by picking up my dog’s poop. In an ideal world, I’d say the best solution is composting your dog poop, but again, that’s reliant on having the resources to do so.

The Diet Situation

Feeding my dog a vegetarian/vegan diet brings up a considerable amount of questions and concerns for me. In general, I’m of the belief that we as humans need to significantly reduce our meat and dairy consumption, for both the good of the environment and our own health and wellbeing. At the same time, other animal species require different nutritional needs and I’m not convinced that feeding my dog a vegan diet is what’s best for her.

On that note, there are other things I’ve started to do to reduce the environmental impact of my dog’s diet. One of those things is buying bulk, to reduce the amount of packaging waste. Another is to actually save the big dog food bag and reuse as a trash bag. This helps me save money on trash bags and reuse something that would have otherwise been a one and done. The other thing I try to do is buy dog treats that come in cardboard boxes and not in plastic bags. And finally, if I buy wet dog food, I buy it in cans instead of plastic containers or sausage-style wrappers.

Dog Toys

I don’t think I’ve ever bought dog toys for Lucy. She either gets them donated from other dogs who don’t want them anymore or I make toys from old t-shirts. Her favorite toy is an old t-shirt that I ripped up and knotted into a rope for tug-a-war. You can make balls, ropes, and even stuffed animals from old shirts.

The Bottom Line

I love my little Lucy and wouldn’t give her up for the world. She’s a pain in my behind and the only living thing that will follow me around the house for the rest of her little life. It’s important to me to be a sustainably conscious pet owner, not so I can claim to have a “zero waste dog,” instead so I can extend my ethos to all aspects of my life. It doesn’t have to happen overnight either; starting with one thing and mastering that, then expanding to something else and something else is a good way to take baby steps toward a significant change in your life.

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