Once again the year is coming to a close. Various holiday traditions and media messaging urge us to reflect and consider what we will resolve to do better next time around. Having learned from years past, and borrowing from the mass experience of the U.S. (and possibly the world) population, I say with confidence that the list must be short and the actions simple. Long lists of lofty resolutions seem to be seldom resolved. Instead, I call to arms all dedicated pet owners to pledge to a simple change that could yield enormous impact. I speak of recycling pet food cans.
Earlier this year, as part of my sustainable MBA program research I embarked on a quest to find the solution to a waste problem: pet food packaging. This endeavor was part of my ongoing work to discover avenues for sustainable pet ownership.
In particular I was motivated by the shocking realization that between the two cats living in my home we went through about 120 small cans of cat food a month. Further research backed up my concerns. To borrow a statistic from Barbara Feiner, reported at Organic Authority, in the United States alone, less than 20% of pet food cans are recycled, leaving the remaining 80% destined for landfill. Inspired by the innovative energy of my graduate program, I decided there must be a more sustainable packaging method for pet food.
As readers of this blog are aware, I have written about various aspects of the pet food industry that are in need of improvement. I spent several months conducting a formal review of the pet food industry, and later decided this was an ideal opportunity to continue my research in a more focused manner. I won’t go into the details of the study, although I welcome interested readers to contact me for details. I will instead focus on my conclusions and with a request to all pet owners for the upcoming new year.
In the end I came back to the beginning. It turns out that canning pet food in metal tins is likely the most appropriate method currently available. Due to the requirements for preserving wet cat food, (excluding specialized diet options such as raw food, which is an entire discussion for another day) canning makes sense. The metal used to can pet food is highly recyclable and is recycled many times before becoming unusable. Furthermore, it seems likely that, at least at this time given current industry and market conditions, a more environmentally friendly packaging method might be economically viable, but would be unlikely to solve the problem. This is because the demographic of people who would likely buy this product are mostly the same people who recycle their cans. Therefore, the 80% of purchased pet food cans that end up in landfill would not be diverted.
In conclusion, the solution seems to be simply this: We must increase the volume of cans that get recycled. With the understanding that not all places have robust recycling systems, this is a call to pet owners everywhere to please make whatever effort possible to recycle your pet food cans. Let us all bring in the new year with this small action that will make a huge difference. We love our pets but along with furry companionship comes a responsibility to minimize their environmental paw prints.