Understanding Sustainable Pet Food: How Your Pet's Food Impacts the Environment

Published by Jean Marie Bauhaus
min read

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Sustainable pet food is more than a marketing buzzword. Concerns about the environment are more common than ever, and pet parents are doing their best to balance what's good for the environment with what's best for their pets. Sustainable ingredients in pet food, greener manufacturing and transportation practices, and eco-friendly packaging are just a few of the ways pet food brands are answering the call to make food that's good for both pets and the planet.

What Sustainable Pet Food Is and Why It Matters

National Geographic defines sustainability as "the practice of using natural resources responsibly today, so they are available for future generations tomorrow." Sustainable pet food seeks to reduce waste and environmental impact without compromising nutritional quality.

As the human population is booming, so is the pet population, and environmentally conscious pet parents are concerned about their pets' impact on the environment. Many people have worked to minimize their carbon footprint by changing their consumption habits, and some are seeking ways to reduce the impact of feeding their pets, too.

Dog and cat lay by a bowl of food.

Sustainable Pet Food Trends

Sustainability in pet food involves more than reduced meat consumption. Both pet parents and pet food manufacturers are also examining the impact of packaging and transporting food. Here's a look at some of the trends in sustainable pet food.

Sustainable Packaging

The United States pet food industry produces somewhere in the neighborhood of 300 million pounds of plastic each year, so it's no wonder that sustainable packaging is high on the list of priorities for eco-conscious pet parents. People are looking for recyclable, biodegradable and compostable pet food packaging, as well as packaging made out of recycled materials. And as creative pet parents look for ways to reuse food bags, manufacturers are racing to meet the demand.

Sustainable Ingredients in Pet Food

In addition to other key micro- and macronutrients, protein is critical for pet health. But meat-producing livestock is a major source of carbon emissions, and they can use a considerable amount of resources. This is why pet parents and pet food manufacturers are exploring alternative protein sources. These include:

Plant-Based Protein

Simply put, feeding your pet strictly vegan foods isn't healthy. Vegan pet food doesn't supply your cat or dog with the nutritional balance they need to thrive. However, plant-based proteins can help supplement animal-based protein in pet food, reducing the amount of meat needed to achieve your pet's protein needs.

Meat Byproducts

Byproducts are the edible parts of an animal that humans generally don't eat, such as organ meats. Despite the high nutritional value of meat byproducts, people often frown upon their use in commercial pet food, and some pet parents avoid foods with byproducts on the ingredients list. However, including meat byproducts reduces waste and saves resources by using all of the edible parts of the animal. It also minimizes animal waste in landfills, which continues to emit carbon dioxide and methane gas.

Insect-Based Protein

In recent years, there's been a growing interest in replacing meat-based protein in pet food with insects as a more sustainable solution. As an animal-based protein, insects contain all of the essential amino acids that dogs and cats require, unlike plant proteins. In August 2021, the Association of American Feed Control Officials voted to approve black soldier fly larvae for use in dog food. Considering insect farms use a fraction of the resources livestock farms use to produce the same amount of protein, insects may become a more widely accepted sustainable source of protein in pet food.

Dog happily runs through trail.

Sustainably Sourced Pet Food

Another approach gaining popularity is sourcing ingredients and materials locally whenever possible to reduce emissions caused by transporting them across large distances. More pet food manufacturers are looking to local farms and suppliers, which has the added benefit of supporting small farms and local economies. You can support this effort by shopping from local businesses or buying directly from manufacturers to reduce the number of trips your pet's food takes to get from the warehouse to your home. Sustainable pet food ingredients are also usually responsibly and ethically sourced. This may mean using cage-free chickens, grass-fed livestock sourced from small farms or wild-caught fish. For many shoppers, companies that use local or sustainable sourcing methods can be the deciding factor in which brand they choose.

Benefits of Sustainable Pet Food

Here are some of the potential benefits that can result from choosing a more sustainable food for your pet:

  • Contribute to the more humane treatment of animals
  • Support smaller farming operations and your local economy
  • Offer your pet highly nutritious meat and protein ingredients that cost less per pound than standard cuts of meat
  • Take part in a larger effort to support your pet and the planet at the same time

As sustainability continues to grow and more companies prioritize social and environmental responsibility, it's likely that sustainable pet food will become more widely available and more affordable. So cheers to the future — and to you and your furry loved one.

Contributor Bio

Jean Marie Bauhaus

Jean Marie Bauhaus

Jean Marie Bauhaus is a freelance writer and novelist who has been writing in the pet health and wellness space since 2014. Her coffee-fueled writing has appeared on AKC.org, BeChewy and CareCredit, among others, written under the watchful supervision of furry office managers