April 1, 2013

Earth Day is coming up on April 22nd. Here are some tips for thinking a little more about the planet as you make choices in caring for your home, dogs and human family this year.

1. Always try to select products (including food, toys and treats) that are sold in compostable or recyclable packaging. Besides the actual energy and materials that go into making a finished product, the packaging it’s sold in can have a dramatic impact on the environment. Many food products are sold in barrier bags with foil linings or multiple individual plastic layers that mean they cannot be recycled at all, so they end up in the landfill. Paper bags don’t protect food very well from moisture and outside contaminants, but a single wall plastic bag that’s recyclable, plus compostable or recyclable box can help to make sure the contents are kept safe and dry, while significantly reducing the impact on the planet.

2. Wondering if you should choose paper or plastic in the store? Why not bring your own bag? Here at The Honest Kitchen, we like to use our Organic cotton tote bag during trips to the market. If you’re in a pinch and left your bag at home, always opt for paper bags because they are made from a renewable resource (unlike plastic bags), and many paper companies are part of organizations that ensure responsible stewardship of forests, planting new young trees as mature ones are harvested.

3. Many dogs spend a great deal of time in their beds, and for them, just as for people the material that bedding is made from is extremely important. Natural fibers, organic materials and unbleached fabric are much less environmentally harmful than man-made materials, which are often laden with toxic chemicals. From a materials usage standpoint, consider some of the newer approaches to dog beds, which provide an empty ‘sack’ that you can stuff with some of your own old unwanted clothes.

4. Once you’ve picked the right bed, pay particular attention to the detergents you use to wash the bedding. Reducing the chemicals in your companion's immediate living space including the actual bed, can help to combat contact allergies when he sleeps on materials that have been cleaned with chemical products.

5. Choose toys that do more than just satisfy the urge to play! A growing number of companies now produce toys that are either handmade by local people in impoverished communities, produced from natural fibers like wool and hemp, or give back a portion of their profits to environmental charities.

6. Always try to select USA-made food, toy and bedding products when you can; this not only helps to support the domestic economy, it also reduces fossil fuel usage for finished goods being shipped in from overseas.

7. Did you know that canned pet foods contain 80% water? The water weight in canned foods means that more resources are used to ship a heavier product. While dogs and cats need a high moisture diet, a more environmentally friendly option is to purchase dehydrated or raw pet foods (where you can add your own water at home) or homemade, and nix canned products.

8. Think about installing a fluoride filter on your home if you live in an area where the municipal water supply is fluoridated. That way, you can avoid planet-damaging plastic water bottles, but still provide a clean, safe drinking option for your dog. Excessive fluoride consumption has been linked to an increase in cases of osteosarcoma in human males – a type of bone cancer that’s also on the rise in dogs.

9. Look for sustainably sourced meats for your pets as well as your human family. Hormone-free and free-range meats are beneficial for not only your health, but your pets as well. There’s growing suspicion that the plethora of growth hormones and other chemicals used to speed the growth of meat producing animals in China, are somehow linked with the epidemic of illness and deaths in dogs here in the US from consuming chicken jerky treats from China. (The Chinese Olympic committee even urged athletes to raise their own hens rather than consume supermarket meat, for fear of all the hormones causing them to fail their drug tests during the last Olympic Games).

10. While ‘organic’ certification doesn’t always guarantee that meat has been humanely raised, organic meat in general is better for the environment and the animal because it’s free of hormones, antibiotics and other additives. Free range and cage-free meats are always a much better option than those that are intensively farmed. Organic produce is also free of the harsh chemical pesticides and fertilizers that are applied to many conventional crops.

11. Try to select foods for your dog that don't contain GMO ingredients. Corn and soy and beets are among the most commonly genetically modified foods in the USA. They’re common ingredients in pet food too, and it’s possible that consuming GMO’s every day plays a role in the incidence of food sensitivities that plague so many pets, as well as having an adverse effect on long term health. When a food is genetically modified, it can become unrecognizable to the body, which then ‘reacts’ with an inflammatory response like itching, or diarrhea. Studies have shown the adverse effects on butterflies who feed on genetically modified crops; they suffer developmental abnormalities and early death. Cut corn, beets and soy from your pet’s daily menu, or if you do choose to feed them, select only organic options.

12. A good quality whole food diet is probably the single most important influencer on total health over the long-term, and well worth the investment because it can save money in vet bills over the years.

13. Dehydrated and freeze dried foods are more compact and nutrient dense (meaning savings on excessive packaging, as well as reduced fossil fuel usage because you aren’t paying to ship the water-weight that’s included in heavier or bulky food like cans and kibble), while raw diets use less energy to produce than high-heat production techniques like canning and extrusion.

14. If you feed a frozen raw diet, consider turning down the thermostat on your freezer by a degree or two if you can. Many households operate their freezers and refrigerators on the coldest possible setting and often, the temperature could actually be raised slightly without any detrimental effects – helping to reduce electricity usage quite significantly.

15. Paying attention to the home thermostat will also benefit you, your pet, your pocket-book and the plant. Many skin conditions are exacerbated by very dry air, and improve without extreme heat and air conditioning. A simple 3 degree change in the thermostat for home heating and cooling systems can prevent the emission of nearly 1100 lbs of carbon dioxide per household, annually.

16. Environmentally safe cleaning products are non-allergenic, non-mutagenic and non-carcinogenic. They’re much safer and less likely to cause health problems like dermatitis and inhalant allergies – not to mention being less toxic if you have an especially inquisitive dog who likes to taste things that aren’t meant to be eaten. They are often more concentrated too (which means less packaging and a reduced carbon pawprint) and made with an array of natural and safe ingredients.

17. Taking your dog along for bike rides to run errands can be great fun and an excellent easy to reduce fuel usage – but consider some sessions with a trainer to make sure you’re both safe when you venture out. A comfortable, good quality bike with great brakes is a must, and specialty made-for-bike leashes can help to improve safety.

18. Rather than using toxic veterinary products for the prevention of heartworm, flea and tick problems, consider natural alternatives like Pennyroyal, which is an excellent herbal insect repellent. Pennyroyal can be grown at home, but should not be used around pregnant pets or peeps. Boric Acid is a great product to help reduce flea infestations in the home. Dogs who eat a healthy, whole food diet are also much more resistant to flea infestations, and the addition of brewer’s yeast and garlic to meals, is helpful for warding off some parasitic pests. Choosing natural essential oils over manmade chemical products is also better for your family and the environment.

19. If you have leftovers from your own healthy home-cooked meals, consider sharing them with your dog instead of dumping them in the trash. Composting is ideal for raw produce peelings and non-meat scraps that can rot down to be used for gardening, but fish, meat and poultry leftovers from your own plate (that are free of cooked bones and heavy sauces) are perfect additions to a dog bowl, and much better put to use there, than in the landfill, mixed with non-biodegradable trash.

20. By choosing to make your own dog treats with ingredients form your kitchen, you can help to reduce packaging waste that comes with stocking up on commercial, plastic-packaged and chemical-laden treats. This recipe is nutritious and delicious, and can be sliced up into any size to make training treats or larger healthy bedtime snacks. The added bonus is that this treat is completely wheat-free and also gluten-free. Visit our Pinterest Page for lots of exciting recipe ideas!