Guest post by Kate Harveston*
Are you actively trying to reduce your carbon footprint and lead an eco-friendlier lifestyle? Then you should take a closer look at your furry family members. The United States is one of the leading countries when it comes to pet ownership. More than 163 million cats and dogs live in this country alone.
Our pets are capable of producing more than 140 billion pounds of carbon dioxide and methane per year; that’s a pretty large carbon paw print! Before you swear off pet ownership for good, read on to learn what to watch out for, and what you can do to help.
Meat as a Diet Staple
A large part of our pet’s contribution to climate change is due to their diet. Meat and other animal products make up over 33% of the average diet for cats and dogs. Most of these animal products are from the scraps left over after meat processing for humans.
Livestock is responsible for 9% of greenhouse gas emissions. They create methane as part of their digestive process, a gas that contributes to global climate change. Livestock also produces large amounts of waste, and the waste treatment generates greenhouse gasses. When our pets consume meat as part of their diet, they’re indirectly contributing to global climate change.
You can try switching your puppy to a plant-based diet or at least reduce the amount of meat you feed your pets. Dogs, like humans, are omnivores and can thrive on a well-rounded no-meat diet. Cats, however, need the nutrients found in meat to survive. Switching your kitty to a plant-based diet can lead to irreversible health issues. Check with your veterinarian before making any changes to your pet’s diet.
Irresponsible Waste Disposal
Remember the last time you forgot a plastic bag while taking your puppy for a walk? When you don’t scoop your poop, you’re contributing to water pollution.
When it rains, toxins from pet poop are washed into storm sewers and then on to lakes, streams and rivers. These toxins can degrade water quality and lead to health risks. The EPA even classifies pet waste as a form of pollution. Always clean up after your pets and dispose of waste properly.
Unexpected Waste Pollutants
Your cat isn’t innocent either. Kitty litter is composed of clay and harmful chemicals such as silica. To get clay, we need to strip-mine, a process which involves removing large amounts of rock and soil to obtain the resources underneath. The remaining hole is filled with loose material. Sediment from the loose material can contaminate water and damage aquatic habitats.
Many companies add silica, a carcinogen, to kitty litter to help with odor control and clumping. Most silica also comes from outside of the United States, which leads to a more substantial carbon footprint because of the increased distance it travels.
You can also choose an eco-friendly litter option without silica and clay. You can find several alternatives that use pinewood, sawdust or grain animal feed. When you remove the waste from your kitty’s litter box, dispose of it in recycled plastic bags to prevent it from contaminating the environment. You can compost leftover litter, which reduces the amount of waste in landfills.
*Kate Harveston is a freelance writer and blogger from Williamsport, PA. Her writing tends to focus on politics and social justice. To follow her writing, you can visit her blog, Only Slightly Biased.