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The environmental pawprint of pet food

Published on May 30, 2019

Have you considered the environmental paw print of your furbaby? 5 June is World Environment Day 2019 and this year the theme is air pollution.

Today the pet food industry grosses over US$90 billion dollars globally. That’s A LOT of pet food moving around the world! More and more pet parents are beginning to realize the importance of quality pet food for their furry companions. Unfortunately, what many of us fail to realise, is that the pet food industry has a huge negative impact on our environment. This is the hidden cost of pet food.

What’s Your Pets Ecological Paw Print?

The term ‘ecological pawprint’ can be defined as a measurable impact a dog or cat will have on the environment. To put it simply, an ecological pawprint evaluates how much renewable natural resources are required to sustain an individual. One of the measurements is by how much land is needed to sustain a single pet.

Now there are many other factors which will affect your pets ecological pawprint. A few of these include:

  • The overuse of plastic in the pet food industry
  • The carbon emission and energy consumption of a pet
  • The selection of ingredients used in pet food

Plastic Waste

Plastic has been under scrutiny by environmentalists for over a decade but has only recently gained wider global attention. The pet food industry has been very slow to react in addressing plastic.

A recent National Geographic article estimates that of the 8.3 BILLION tonnes of plastic ever produced, only 9% has been recycled, 12% incinerated and a whopping 79% has ended up in landfill and our oceans. A 2017 study estimated that humans dump approximately 8 million tonnes of plastic into our oceans.

Although there are many sources of plastic, there’s no doubt that the pet food industry plays a huge role when it comes to the overuse of plastic.

Think about it! When you’re walking down the pet food aisle in supermarkets or pet stores, all you will really see are loads of pet foods packaged in heavy duty plastic! Now, it’s not just the single-use plastic that’s a concern. You see, the plastic we use in New Zealand is manufactured in China, simply because labour is a lot cheaper.

How Your Pet Impacts Air Pollution

The second most important factor that increases your dog’s ecological footprint has to do with how much they eat. A study done in 2017 states that in the US alone, dogs and cats consumed anywhere from 19% - 21% of the amount of dietary energy consumed by humans. Another study performed in Japan indicated that the average greenhouse gas emitted by our dogs and cats ranges anywhere from 2.5 to 10.7 million tonnes a year! Just think about all the planes, shops, trucks and vans needed to shift $90,000,000,000 of pet food around the world!

To put it in context, a New Zealand study estimates that your average dog is responsible for as much air pollution each year as your average Remuera Tractor (aka SUV).

Over Feeding

Now this is a huge problem that is easily solved. Globally we are over feeding our pets and it's an absolute travesty of compounding issues for individuals and society at large. Reports estimate the over 55% of dogs in the US are obese, in New Zealand it’s 40% (still a huge problem). Not only is this the single biggest health issue facing dogs today, it's also adding significantly to both our individual, and collective environmental paw prints. Come on people!

So why does this happen? Because ‘we’ as pet owners are feeding our dogs and cats more than they need. And, it is because of overfeeding our dogs, that the ecological pawprint increases both drastically and incredibly unnecessarily.

We Think The Solutions Here Are Simple:

Problem: Pet parents associate food with love. In itself that should be ok, but unfortunately this manifests in too many treats and overfeeding. Where is should manifest as careful diet control and weight management. Good food and great health is true love for an animal, not too much food.
Solution: care enough to manage their diet

Problem: Pet owners don’t understand how much they should be feeding. This is as much the industry’s fault as it is individuals; who on earth can decipher the vague feeding tables on pet food?!
Solution: know exactly how much to feed (hint: calorie & feeding plan calculator)

Problem: Industry dominated by imported food in plastic packaging.
Solution: Buy local NZ made food, not only does it have less carbon miles, it will be fresher! Opt for reduced plastic or plastic free packaging options (e.g. Feed My Furbaby)

What can you do right now?

So, as a pet parent concerned about the environment, what can you do to decrease the ecological footprint of your dog? Well, there are three things:

  1. Feed them locally made, high-quality dog food
  2. Feed them the right amount, and
  3. Avoid imported pet foods packaged in thick plastic!

Lowering your furbaby’s ecological pawprint is a journey, but it needn’t be a difficult one and the key is to make a small start. With a simple bit of research, and supporting businesses (like Feed My Furbaby) that use more environmentally friendly methods - you’ll get to ecowarrior level in no time.