With Earth Day approaching on April 22, we should all be reminded of the impact that we — and our four-legged friends — have on this Earth. While we may think that our impact on the Earth is minimal, I'm afraid it probably isn't … especially with a few billion people and all those extra four-legged carbon footprints.
If everyone just took one or two small extra steps, we just might be able to make a difference after all. In this two part series, I am sharing some of my tips on how to go green. Some of these tips are directly pet related, and some are more people related. Nevertheless, it helps out all species in the long run!
1. Recycle. Thankfully, most of us do this already, but let's take it to the next level. At the grocery store, ask yourself if you really need those small plastic bags for every single vegetable you’re taking home with you.
And before you throw away the extra plastic bag (like the bread bag or that bag in your cereal box), think of all the poop you can pick up with it instead! Find out if your local grocery store recycles plastic bags, and for any plastic that can’t be used as a poop scooping bag, store it away to drop off the next time you go shopping.
If you have your cat or dog on canned food, opt for the larger sized cans so you can minimize the number of cans that you use. And obviously, rinse and recycle all those cans!
2. Do more online. When it comes to paying bills, don't bother doing it via snail mail. After all, you are dramatically reducing your carbon footprint by not asking someone to walk to your house to pick up your mail (your under-appreciated postal worker), driving it to the post office, utilizing energy to sort it, and delivering it again … and you can save yourself a stamp in the process.
Nowadays, paying for everything online helps to reduce inefficiency. Reduce paper production by asking that you receive your bills electronically — there is no need for paper copies nowadays!
That goes for those of you receiving newspapers, too. While it's relaxing to read the newspaper over coffee, it takes a lot of energy to make and deliver that daily paper. Splurge and save the earth and just get the weekend newspaper instead. Alternatively, find other uses for your newspaper. Animal shelters and veterinary clinics often like re-using newspaper for cage liners — but check with them first.
3. Scooping the poop. How does one go green while scooping poop? If you're a cat owner, save an empty kitty litter pail (you should be using the scoopable kind anyway, not the environmentally unfriendly, cheaper clay stuff that comes in 50 lb. bags!), line it with a plastic bag or two, and put it right next to your kitty litter container. I scoop every other day, and just scoop out the urine clumps and feces directly into the covered litter pail container. You absolutely do not have to dump the whole box out; that’s a big waste of expensive, landfill-filling kitty litter. Just scoop out the urine clumps and feces instead.
(I describe this more in my cat book, It's a Cat's World … You Just Live in It, where I have one chapter dedicated to just kitty litter.)
Once your plastic container is full, voilà … just empty the bag and dump it out weekly. Not only does having a clean litter box help keep your cat healthy, it reduces the amount of litter and plastic bags that you are wasting. For my backyard, I only poop scoop it once a week, reducing it from 7-10 bags to just 2 bags. I use one plastic bag as a glove and the other as a receptacle. Just scoop it into the empty bag and help minimize the number of plastic bags you need.
4. Use reusable grocery bags. Help minimize the number of plastic or paper bags you are using. Thankfully, grocery stores are jumping on the bandwagon (they are probably trying to save some money in the process). Most grocery stores now sell $1 reusable sturdy bags. Leave them in your car, and remember to use them. If you need more plastic bags for scooping, no worries — just grab them out of the recycling bin at the supermarket!
5. Go organic and plant your own backyard garden. I'm a huge gardener and believe that if everyone just converted a small plot in their backyard (or a few pots on your balcony for you city dwellers), we could help save the world. I never have to grocery shop for veggies from July-October, thanks to my productive garden supply of tomatoes, catnip, basil, thyme, leeks, beans, eggplant, peppers, cucumbers, garlic, chives, etc. Not only is it fun to harvest, but it reduces the amount of gas needed to ship your veggies to your local market. If you are a city dweller, plant something small - herbs, etc. Those green plants are still helpful in minimizing carbon dioxide in the environment.
And support your local farmer’s market by buying locally. Lastly, try to eat seasonal fruits and vegetables instead of having those products shipped from across the country or from another country.
6. Don’t breed or buy, while homeless animals die. I’m always amazed by how much people are willing to pay for a purebred pet, only to not be able to afford the medical care. I’m not an advocate of purchasing a $1,500 dog unless you have 2-4 times that amount in savings in case of medical emergencies. (That’s the general guideline I’ve been taught about how much house you can buy too; don’t invest in more than 2-4 times your salary for a house.)
Purebreds typically have more inherited medical problems (which are expensive to treat), including cancer, brachycephalic syndrome, hip dysplasia, etc. Rather, adopt a pet at your local shelter and consider starting a savings account for your pet's future healthcare. My general recommendation is to put away a dollar a day for each pet.
Next week: Six more tips on what you can do to be eco-friendly.
Dr. Justine Lee