My family recently got a new addition — well, actually two new additions. We adopted a pair of kittens a month or so ago. It had been awhile since we’d had a pet, and we found ourselves confounded by all the choices that we had to make about food and accessories and kitty litter and toys, and how expensive everything is! What’s more, wandering up and down the aisles and aisles of products in our local pet superstore, I couldn’t help but wonder about how unnecessary many of these things are, and what their impact is on the environment.
So we set out to outfit our new arrivals in a more sustainable, eco-responsible way. Here are some of the choices we’ve made:
- We said yes to hand-me-downs. Cats are finicky creatures, and the minute word got out that we were getting kittens, many friends offered up stuff: the food their cat turned their nose at, a half-full bag of litter from someone who switched types, a climbing structure from a household whose cat was too old and lazy to bother with it. We saved a lot of money, were able to try out some brands of litter and food without any investment, and our kittens loved the climbing structure that my friend was relieved to get rid of. If you’re getting a pet or even if you already have one, ask around, post on neighborhood message boards, or otherwise spread the word. You’ll be surprised by how many people might have pet supplies they’re looking to unload because it didn’t work out or they no longer have the pet.
- We made our own toys. The pet superstore in our neighborhood has an entire aisle devoted to pet toys. But you know what our cats like best? A crumpled up piece of paper. You can avoid spending money and creating demand for resources when you use stuff already around the house. They’ll enjoy it just as much! A toilet paper roll can be repurposed in many ways, for instance, and I was able to make use of the many odds and ends of yarn from my knitting stash, most of which are too small to make something useful for myself, to knit some adorable toys.
- We make smart choices about our pet food. Initially I chose canned cat food over the pouch kind, since cans are recyclable but the pouches are not. But then I learned that the pouches require less energy and resources to make, and they are more efficient to store and ship. Both materials have environmental trade-offs, but for now I’ll stick to the recyclable cans. As for the food itself, we seek out pet food that’s minimally processed, with a short-ish ingredient list, just like the people food I buy.
- We choose eco-friendly cat litter. I learned some disturbing things about litter: that the silica dust in it can cause respiratory issues for both felines and humans, and that the clay component is often strip-mined. But since the last cat I owned, there are more options now than before for more responsible kitty litter. I’m partial to Yesterday’s News, which is made from — you guessed it — old newspaper.
- We upcycled other supplies. While I was tempted by the cute fish-shaped cat food dishes at the pet store, we went to a thrift store instead and upcycled secondhand items. We found some colorful bowls as well as a vinyl placemat that my daughters decorated with the cats’ names and little pictures of birds and fish. Since the kittens seemed to like lying on my clothes anyway, I made them a bed from an old sweater. And my husband is planning to build a cat tower from scraps of wood left over from a building project, as well as some carpet remnants that a friend gave us.