We have a delightful fur child called Maddie. She is the eldest of our children being an 11 year old Border Collie. We also had a Kelpie called Bob but he passed away a couple of years ago. He was the gentlest, most hard-working dog you could have.
I’ve called this post *Our* Zero Waste Dog because I think this is one area where zero waste living is easier in the country than in the city. But, hopefully my post will still give you some ideas for reducing waste associated with dog ownership no matter where you live.
We’ve always lived on properties sized one acre or more, and without training, our dogs have always done their business well away from the house and play areas, choosing the boundaries of a property or an adjacent paddock. For this reason, we have never had to consider picking up after our dogs. Even if we go for a walk and the dog follows, we are on a deserted dirt road lined with remnant bush and paddocks. The dog poo can decay naturally without causing any harm.
If you need to pick up dog poo, it’s possible to do it plastic free or in a low waste way. Try a piece of newspaper, reusable pooper-scooper, or reuse other packaging that you have in the home such as bags from bread, chip packets, and pasta packets.
Compostable bags are another option but you have to understand that they are still a single use product and unless you have the option of putting the used bag in a Council organics collection bin or using a home dog poo composting system separate to your other composting system, these bags will end up in landfill where they don’t get the oxygen they need to decompose. In landfill they breakdown slowly under anaerobic conditions and methane gas is produced. Methane is a major contributor to greenhouse gases and our current environmental problems.
Food and water
The best I can do in terms of bulk dog food is to buy the biggest bag of dog food I can find (20kg) and recycle the bags via the REDcycle program. It’s a plastic bag, but ensuring it’s recycled is ensuring there is no waste. Obviously, you can recycle dog food packaged in cans as well.
Homemade dog food is an option, but frankly, I have a hard enough time keeping up with homemade food for the humans in our family. In saying that, Maddie happily eats our scraps and leftovers and it’s reasonable to cook extra occasionally to give some to the dog (provided its healthy). Maddie has also been caught sneaking eggs from the hen house and finds other sources of food around the property.
Raw bones are great for dogs’ teeth and these are easy to get from a butcher shop. Just ask them to wrap the bones in butcher’s paper or newspaper.
Our food and water bowls are made from durable stainless steel and I always seem to come across these second hand, but if you don’t find them second hand they are easy to find new.
We don’t need dog toys. We had some when Maddie first came into our lives but she wasn’t interested in any of it. She gets enough stimulation from having a large property to explore and people at home to hang out with every day. She loves fetch with a stick but she is slowing down these days. If you need toys to stimulate your dog, just google upcycled dog toys and you’ll be inundated with low waste options.
We now have a puppy! My son made him some chew toys from old t-shirts.
Bedding and shelter
Shannon built Maddie and Bob a simple kennel from salvaged floor boards many years ago (I can’t find any photos of it unfortunately), but at our previous home, after Bob died, Maddie preferred to sleep on old blankets and an old deck chair cushion in the garage next to a door that opened into our bedroom. Now, at our current home, she sleeps on a blanket on the couch at night.
If you don’t have old blankets, pillows or doonas to reuse for pet bedding (ours are made from 100% wool and cotton), look in the op shop for secondhand items. I have also seen pet beds made from pure wool, hessian, or upcycled materials in pet stores. You just have to look around a little and let staff know what you are looking for so that they will stock it in the future.
Worm and flea treatment
Maddie is on a schedule to be wormed and given a flea treatment every three months at the start of each new season. I get the treatments in tablet form in blister packs straight from the vet. The good news is that the big blister pack is completely made of foil and can be scrunched up with my other foil scraps for recycling. The other blister pack is very small and is the only source of waste associated with our dog ownership. I might even be able to recycle it with other rigid plastic because I was able to remove all the foil. I’m just not sure yet because of it’s small size.
Washing and grooming
Dogs shouldn’t be washed too often or you can remove the protective oils from their skin and hair and cause irritation. We rarely wash Maddie but when we do, we have a pet shampoo bar to use that I got from a local maker package free.
I also have a brush, clippers and a comb set to help clean her up and thin out her hair in Summer. These are all reusable items with a long lifespan.
Collar and lead
Maddie still has her original collar and lead which is not made from natural fibres but they are not at the end of their life and won’t be for a long time. Here are some collars made from hemp and cork, but another option would be to find something second hand or to upcycle materials into a lead or collar.
“Once you have had a wonderful dog, a life without one, is a life diminished.”
—Dean Koontz(author, Whispers)
Thanks again Tammy for another great post! We have two adopted cats and it’s been hard for me to reduce the waste surrounding them as much as I would like. We buy cat food bulk bags, similar to you and recycle them via redcycle, but they only eat very little meat, so the pouches are the best go, or a bit of my partner’s left over meat at dinner times is the other option. The meat in cans doesn’t last very well once opened, even in a container and I’m not sure how to solve this issue – 1 is a food waste problem or 2 is a plastic waste problem. I wonder if anyone else has other alternatives for cats (without cooking them a meal haha)?
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I buy meat direct from a pet shop. He puts it into containers I take in and then freezes it until I can pick it up.
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Hi Annelise, how lovely of you to adopt some cats. Can those pouches also be recycled via RedCycle? I think baby food pouches can, if that’s the sort of thing you mean. I’ve never had a pet cat so their needs are quite foreign to me. Hopefully someone else will be able to provide some ideas to help you.
Hi Annelise, have you tried freezing daily portions from larger packs?
Hi Tammy. As always such great information. I live in an urban environment with 2 lovely dogs. To solve the poop problem I bought a plastic bin from an op shop. I cut the bottom off and retained the lid. I then dig a hole in a remote part of the garden, put the bin in that and place scooped poop in there. If I’m in the garden and it smells I put the lid on. When almost full to ground level I pull out the plastic and move it to another hole somewhere else in the garden. A few compost worms are thrown in and then back filled.
At this time of year I also notice the poop being worked by dung beetles so if possible I let them do their job.
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Hi Penny, sounds like you have a good system working for you, thanks for sharing it. Do you use a scooper or something else like a bag or newspaper to pick up the poo? I saw an episode of Gardening Australia where the lady was using newspaper and putting it all in a similar setup where it all composted nicely.
This is great, I’ve got a few friends with dogs who’ll appreciate this article. I need to figure out how to make my rescue lizards zero waste
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Thanks. Good luck with the lizards. 🦎
Collar and leash – you can find a leather ones, also stainless steel ones. As far as sustainable and natural goes, these are viable options. I know that ateel ones sound really harsh, but you can find a delicate almost jevelery like collars that will last a life time. We hade one for our doston terrier. He was wearing it only outside a house, if one is to be used without removing, then perhaps leather option wold be better.
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Hi Tammy. We too, have just got a rescue puppy. He’s pretty well behaved & we’ve made sock toys out of old socks. I have plenty of old t-shirts which the kids can do up as a toy, thanks for that wonderful idea. Where did you find the dog soap cakes, or who is the maker? Thanks as always for the wonderful work you do to educate people.
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I see the dog soap cakes at markets. The one I have is by Barany Naturals. 🙂