There are about 51 million pets in the UK – roughly 8 times the entire population of London. They give us a lot of happiness. In return we give them a lot of things: pet products like squeaky toys, animal treats and even clothing. Many of those things are made of plastic or come in plastic packaging.
From feeding and entertaining to carrying and cleaning up after them – your pet can end up fetching you mountains of unwanted plastic waste. Too much of this stuff doesn't get recycled and sticks around in the environment, posing a threat to wildlife.
Don't despair. We can reduce the plastic pawprint of our pets. Whether you've got a dog, cat, rabbit, rodent or other non-human member of the family, read on for our plastic-free tips for pets.
1. Avoid plastic food pouches
Wet food for dogs and cats is a bit messy. It's obvious why single servings wrapped in plastic-aluminium pouches have become popular. So popular, that billions of them are ending up in landfill each year. Fewer than 1 in 20,000 food pouches are recycled, according to an article published in The Times newspaper – making them more of a burden than single-use coffee cups.
Buying paper-wrapped dried food in bulk is a better option. Lily's Kitchen uses recyclable aluminium trays and tins instead of pouches for its wet food supplies.
2. Make your own luxury pet food
Surely the quickest way to more cuddles, kisses and lap naps? Butcher's off-cuts, greengrocer veggies, boxed porridge oats... No matter which animal you're catering for, there are lots of plastic-free options. You can even up your environmental score by selecting organic ingredients and minimising the meat in your pet's diet. Consult your vet before making any drastic changes. There are plenty of tips and recipes online. Our favourite is bunny gardening for beginners, which teaches you how to grow most of your pet rabbit's favourite foods.
3. Buy eco-friendly pet toys
Some pets have more toys than children (and some of those may well have been stolen from children): teddy bears, pet puzzles, you name it.
Look out for toys made from hemp, bamboo and wood from sustainably managed forests. Hemp and bamboo are often labelled as environmentally friendly. In comparison, cotton requires large amounts of water, pesticides and cheap labour. You can find stuff like hemp dog bones, canvas squeaker toys and sisal-wrapped scratching posts. Sisal is a natural plant fibre like hemp.
Thinking of getting a rodent? Go for a wooden exercise wheel for your hamster or gerbil. And do you really want to be hunting for tiny poops that have escaped while Hammy's been running around in his plastic-prison ball? Instead, get the kids to make a playpen from cardboard boxes like in this YouTube video. That way, you know exactly where to find the poop.
4. Make your own cat or dog bed
Why waste your money on items liable to come wrapped in plastic or contain hidden plastic? Be original and use an old suitcase, worn pillows and a used bed sheet – it'll even smell of you, which your pet should love. There will be plenty more creative ways to make sure that Fido or Felix get a good night's sleep minus the plastic pollution. Tweet us with your ideas.
5. Get a non-plastic pet hair remover
As much as we love our pets, we don't want to be wearing them around the office or on a night out round town. But those rollers that remove pet hair come with plastic-coated sheets that we end up chucking in the bin. Thankfully there is an answer: a reusable lint brush. You can even get a plastic-free one. Apparently a damp cloth also works pretty well – but we haven’t put that to the test. How fur will you go to eliminate plastic waste? (You'll hopefully aim higher than the standard of humour in this article).
6. Bag yourself a major coup (or coop even)
Some plucky people like to keep their own hens. If you're feeling a little broody, this entry is just for you. From living green roofs to re-purposed old water tanks: when it comes to deciding on eco-friendly chicken coops, you really don’t have to put all your eggs in one basket. Need some inspiration? Check out this Pinterest page.
Rabbits and guinea pigs don't miss out either. Find your nose twitcher a hutch made from sustainable wood and environmentally friendly paint, like this one.
7. Don't get fleeced by eco labels
Recycling old plastic bottles into fleece jumpers and pet supplies has got to be eco, right? Not so. People doing sciency things have discovered extremely small pieces of plastic in our oceans. Apparently, these bits have come from, you guessed it, products made from recycled plastic. Meaning this stuff is finding its way into the ocean anyway. Worse still, it draws in toxins like a sponge – which marine animals then ingest.
8. Doggy shampoo (all bar the plastic)
No one likes the smell of wet dog. Unless of course it's a mutt freshly bathed in organic shampoo. They even have their own soap bars now. There's a plastic-free method in the madness.
9. Take the lead on plastic-free accessories
Let your best friend lead you down the right path, literally, with an environmentally friendly hemp collar and dog lead. Failing that, get a dog that takes itself for a walk – otherwise known as a cat. Hemp is strong, washable and antimicrobial. It's the eco warrior of the plant world: great for soil, naturally resistant to most pests and less water needy than other crops.
Hungry for more? Dish up your pet's favourite food in one of these bamboo and rice husk bowls. You can also get glass water bottles for animals like rabbits, guinea pigs and rodents.
10. Biodegradable poop bags – good or bad?
Let's clean up this mess right now.
Brits are more crazy about dogs than any other pet. 26% of households have one. There are approximately 9 million pet dogs in the UK. They produce 1,000 tonnes of poo a day. That’s the equivalent of 666 Toyota Prius’ pooped out every 24 hours.
Shhh... sugar, that's a lot of poo – which means a mountain of plastic poop bags. So should you buy biodegradable and compostable ones? The easy answer is yes. They're immediately more environmentally friendly because they're made from plant starch instead of climate-changing petroleum. These plant-based poop bags come packaged in a recycled-paper box.
Now for the but (and that wasn't a bum joke). Biodegradable bags need oxygen and light to break down. Unfortunately, the vast majority of poop bags end up in landfill where there is no light and very little oxygen. Basically they'll mummify and, like regular plastic, stick around for absolutely ages.
There isn't a perfect solution right now. As well as smelling bad, dog faeces can contain nasty parasites, which has led to warnings against both composting it and flushing it down the toilet.
Don't lose hope. It takes guts to get ahead in this world, or a by-product of them apparently. Want to read about pooch poop powering a street lamp? You can even watch Kevin McCloud of Grand Designs make a cup of tea from dog-waste biogas.
11. Adopt rather than buy
Bonding with an animal at a rescue centre and taking it home with you – don't tell me that doesn't make your heart all warm and fuzzy. Adopting means that you're lowering the demand for breeding new pets. Fewer pets mean fewer resources like food, toys and shelter. And that means less plastic waste.
Plastic pet hates?
Are we barking up the wrong tree? Have you got any other solutions? Tweet us about your own plastic pet hates.
Please sign our petition
We can all try our best to reduce plastic waste, but we also need companies to stop using so much of the stuff in our products.
We want the government to get tough on plastic pollution in all sectors of society, including pet supplies. Please add your name to our petition. The animals will thank you. The wild ones too.