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  • Helena Holmes
    Helena Holmes

    Carbon pawprints: are pets bad for the planet?

    44% of people in the UK own a pet. Whilst pets have many benefits, notably on our health and wellbeing, there is no denying that they have a detrimental impact on the environment. 

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    Author: Petteri Sulonen

    Mike Berners-Lee’s book, How Bad Are Bananas?, reveals the carbon footprints of almost everything, including our pets.

    • Average-size cat – 310kg of CO2e per year
    • Average-size dog – 770 kg of CO2e per year
    • Large dog – 2,500kg of CO2e per year
    • Goldfish – 25kg of CO2e per year

    The biggest contributor to these carbon emissions is pet food. Meat makes up a significant part of the diet of cats and dogs, with pets consuming around a fifth of the world's meat and fish. Meat is bad for the environment due to the land, energy and water that it uses. Cattle farming in particular leads to deforestation, biodiversity loss and produces large quantities of greenhouse gas emissions.

    A study conducted by a UCLA geography professor, Gregory Okin, revealed that dogs and cats in the US produce 64 million tons of carbon dioxide and methane a year. If pets were given their own country, they’d rank fifth in the world in meat consumption and an average dog has a carbon footprint twice that of a 4x4 car! 

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    Another survey which explored the environmental impact of pet food production found that:

    • 49 million hectares of land (twice the size of the UK) is used to make dry food for dogs and cats annually
    • The industry emits 106 million tonnes of carbon dioxide each year

    Can meat-free pet food make a difference?

    Meat-free pet food is expensive and lab-grown meat may not even be better for the environment. Perhaps the best solution is simply to not own a pet. Nevertheless, there are ways that we can reduce our pets’ environmental impact.

    How can we reduce our pets' carbon pawprint?

    Food:

    • Stop overfeeding (over half of the UK’s dogs are obese)
    • Choose chicken or fish pet food rather than those containing beef 
    • Bulk buy food to reduce packaging - eco-friendly food can often be bought in bulk as it is mostly dry so lasts longer 
    • Buy locally made food if possible
    • Avoid fancy pet food as those made up from the by-products of meat that we eat is fine for pets (rather than creating more emissions unnecessarily)
    • Find sustainable brands - look for those that use recyclable packaging 
    • Yora and Tomojo are creating insect-based food for cats and dogs (96% fewer emissions than beef)
    • Make your own food – DIY recipes – check with your vet first

    Other ways:

    • Don’t buy from breeders, buy from a shelter or rescue – there are lots of unwanted cats and dogs that are unfortunately euthanized each year (buying and ordering from breeders creates more carbon emissions and increases the pet population)
    • Spay or neuter - to reduce unwanted pets
    • Consider owning smaller cats or dogs
    • Purchase eco-friendly pet toys or make your own!
    • Change to sustainable cat litter – regular cat litter contains mineral-based products that are strip-mined (an environmentally destructive process). Cat litter made from natural plant materials is much greener
    • Buy biodegradable dog poo bags
    • Buy eco-friendly bedding – natural fibres, plastic and polyester free fabrics
    • Purchase greener grooming products - organic and natural shampoos and opt for wooden brushes over plastic
    • Purchase pet products second hand - look in charity shops or try ebay
    • Compost their waste
    • Consider cremation rather than burying your pet in the garden

    Click here for more eco-friendly pet products.

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