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Between their poop bags, tattered old toys, and empty food packaging, dogs sure know how to fill up a trash can. This is something that entrepreneur, environmental activist, and zero-waste icon Lauren Singer didn’t account for when she first adopted her rescue pup Rose. But after an initial week of trashed pee pads, Singer really got the hang of the whole healthy, sustainable pet parenting thing. Now, the Trash is for Tossers and Package Free founder is ready to spill the bulk bin beans on how she avoids the most common sources of pet waste — and her tips are actually pretty doable. That trash pile never stood a chance.
Instead of shopping online or at her local pet shop for Rose’s toys, Singer heads to the neighborhood tennis court. “Tennis balls are one of those things that people will use a few times and then just get rid of to get newly inflated ones,” she explains, so tennis facilities will often have tons of old, slightly deflated ones lying around. They may not be Wimbledon ready, but the secondhand toy is perfectly suitable for a rallying game of fetch.
Singer adds that instead of getting Rose toys that she’ll play with by herself, she prefers to take her on walks or chase her around the park. Beyond being a fun, free, and zero-waste way to bond, she notes that these activities keep both of them healthy and connected to their environment. “After being inside for two years and not having as much freedom to travel around and explore new places, I’m looking to get out into nature — in the trees, in the dirt, in the sand, in the grass — more this year,” Singer tells The Wildest. “That’s my priority for both of us.”
While compostable poop bags made from bioplastics aren’t a perfect solution, Singer prefers them to traditional bags made from petroleum. She personally uses the Boba & Vespa bags they sell at Package Free, made from maize flour and vegetable oil. Since most industrial composting facilities don’t accept dog poop (it can contaminate the process), you’ll likely need to compost these at home. Though Singer notes that some composting programs, like the one she uses in Brooklyn, do separate collections for pet waste so it’s always worth asking.
Treats & Food
“I cook for her which saves so much packaging and also a ton of money,” Singer says of her weekly ritual of boiling chicken and vegetables for Rose’s food. “She eats the same food I would eat. In fact, sometimes she eats a lot better than I do.”
When it’s time for a treat, Singer turns to bully sticks as a low-waste option, noting, “Even though bully sticks are pretty disgusting to think about, they’re made using a byproduct from the animal agriculture industry so there is overall waste reduction there.” Plus, Rose loves to chomp on them and they’re good for protecting her teeth and reducing plaque.
Since Singer got Rose in a hurry (read up on the wild reason why here), she didn’t have time to get a low-waste version of early days staples like pee pads. But if she could go back in time, she’d snag one of the many reusable, washable pads you can find on Etsy.
At the end of the day, when the tennis balls have been played with and the chicken-vegetable food devoured, Rose retires to her wicker and linen “house” from Hunting Pony. Singer loves that it’s washable and Rose appreciates that it’s her own enclosed little hideaway.
Leashes, Collars & Clothes
Singer shies away from synthetic leashes and collars in favor of durable, natural leather ones. “At the end of their life they’ll be biodegradable, so they’ll be kept out of landfills,” she explains of her pick.
And while Singer notes that Rose much prefers to be nude, a handmade jacket made of recycled materials keeps her warm on chilly winter days. Once she outgrows any piece of apparel, Singer will always ask if anyone else in her apartment building could use it or donate it to a shelter instead of tossing it.
Washing & Grooming
Finally, when it’s time for a clean after all that playing outdoors, Singer will typically wash Rose with the same liquid soap she uses. Castile soap is one plant-based option that’s great for both humans and pets, and you can find it in refillable glass jars.
And if a quick trim is in order, she’ll reach for the FURminator that she got as a hand-me-down. She notes that while the grooming device is made of plastic, it’s super effective at gathering fur — which can then be tossed into the compost pile. Yep, pet hair and nails are compostable!
Whether you’re looking to reduce waste for your pet or yourself, Singer says it’s important to start small and not feel like you need to do everything at once. The next time you run out of something in one or two of these categories, try incorporating a low-waste swap and see how it goes. Remember, it’s all about progress, not perfection.
“I find it very fitting that the dog I would have was found in the trash. It’s the only trash that I like, I guess!”
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Emma is a writer, editor, and environmentalist based in New York City. She is the senior sustainability editor at mindbodygreen, the author of Return To Nature: The New Science of How Natural Landscapes Restore Us (April 2022), and the co-author of The Spirit Almanac: A Modern Guide To Ancient Self-Care. While she doesn’t have any pets of her own, she is a loving dog aunt to Pip the pup.