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Wait, I Can Recycle My Pet Food Packaging?

It’s easier than you think.

by Emma Loewe
March 29, 2022
Photoboyko / Adobe Stock

Your pet wants you to read our newsletter. (Then give them a treat.)

While cans of pet food can usually be recycled, bags are a little trickier. Their hefty material falls somewhere between plastic and metal, leading many pet parents to do the confused shuffle between the trash and recycling bins every time they have an empty one. Unfortunately, these bags belong in the trashcan more often than not. Since most of them are made from a few layers of material (usually some combination of aluminum and plastic), they tend to be too expensive for local recyclers to process.

“Each layer of a multilayer package would have to be separated and recycled individually for maximum recovery. For curbside recycling programs, this is often inefficient and costly,” explains Mary Ellen Dowd, a communications associate at TerraCycle, an innovative waste management company.

TerraCycle has a mission to “eliminate the idea of waste” by creating recycling solutions for previously unrecyclable items; your pooch’s favorite dry food included. By partnering with global leaders, businesses, communities, and individuals, they’ve overcome the financial barriers and managed to give over 527,000 pounds of pet food packaging a second life as park benches, picnic tables, playgrounds, and more. 

Here are a few ways to join their programs:

1. Brand-supported recycling

Depending on the type of pet food you buy, you may actually be able to ship your empties to TerraCycle for free. The company has partnered with the following brands on send-in programs. Simply sign up on the brand’s page and you’ll be able to place your clean-and-dried containers in either any box you have laying around or a pre-paid bag that they send to you. Both options come with pre-paid shipping labels. Once you send your packaging back to Terracycle, they’ll be able to break it down to be reused.

2. Drop-off

Dog and cat food companies Earthborn Holistic and Wellness® have synched up with TerraCycle to establish public dropoff points for their packaging. Look at the map on these brand pages to find a drop-off near you. (It’ll likely be a pet food or supply store.) 

3. Zero-waste box

If you don’t buy from companies with an established relationship with TerraCycle, you can still send in your empties to be recycled — you’ll just have to pay for it. Once you buy a Pet Food Packaging Zero Waste Box, you can fill it with any clean pet food bag, box, or container you want to recycle. Though these boxes aren’t cheap (the smallest size is $110), you can share the cost with friends, neighbors, or co-workers.

“A great thing with zero-waste boxes is that it doesn’t have to be just an individual collecting,” Dowd notes. Your pet-friendly apartment building, office, or school could all go in on a box together, for example. Once your box is full, bring it to a UPS shipping location and pat yourself on the back for helping your community avoid tons of trash.

When it comes to pet food packaging, “wishcycling” — or throwing it in the recycling bin and hoping for the best — usually isn’t the answer. Instead, look into programs like TerraCycle that take the guesswork out of it and ensure your pet’s dinnertime stays a low-waste affair.

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emma loewe

Emma Loewe

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.