Pet food sustainability, in and outside the bag

Most pet food companies know that consumers are concerned with sustainability. Not surprisingly, then, many are turning to more environmentally friendly models, and at least some are working to develop more sustainable practices.

The Pet Sustainability Alliance, a nonprofit organization that works with companies to employ sustainable practices, reports that an estimated 300 million pounds of pet food and treat bags are produced in the United States each year, and no more than 99% of these bags are recycled.

Illustration: A bag of pet food and a bowl of cookies for dogs

However, 12% of pet owners prefer food with eco-friendly packaging, and 7% of pet owners prefer sustainable, human-sourced ingredients, according to a survey in Pet Business of the American Pet Products Association 2021-2022 National Pet Owners Survey. .

“Pet lovers care about how pet food and litter are made and it is done in a responsible manner,” said Brian Sievers, Director of Technical Packaging at Nestlé Purina.

Reduce reuse of recycled materials

Purina is working to make 100% of its packaging reusable or recyclable by 2025. Currently, the packaging of about 80% of Purina products is recyclable, and another 15% is ready-to-recycle or made from recyclable materials, although Most recycling facilities do not currently have the infrastructure needed to process those materials, Sivers said.

“One of the ways we are approaching more sustainable packaging is by investing heavily in research and development of new packaging solutions,” Sivers said, adding that Purina is also working to use more post-consumer recycled materials in its plastic packaging and eliminate unnecessary packaging.

For example, the company’s Tidy Cats Naturally Strong trash can is made with 50% recycled content, and the most important is recycled milk jugs.

TerraCycle, a recycling company that operates in 20 countries collecting hard-to-recycle materials, is currently partnering with 11 pet food companies to facilitate packaging recycling through their free recycling programs.

The process includes creating an account with TerraCycle, signing up for a program, then downloading a free shipping label and mailing in waste packages for recycling by the company. Once the shipment is received by TerraCycle, the materials are sorted, separated by properties and formulations, then cleaned, cut and shaped into plastic pellets for use in new products. More information is available at

WellPet, a pet food brand, is one of the companies involved in the TerraCycle Partnership.

said Chanda Leary-Coutu, Director of Consumer Experience and Marketing at WellPet.

Since the company began partnering with TerraCycle, more than 360,000 empty dry food bags have been diverted away from landfills through the program, Leary-Coutu said. New raw materials from those recycled bags were used for things like pencil cases, storage boxes and playgrounds.

Many other pet food companies have sustainable goals, too. For example, Mars Petcare plans to reduce its use of “virgin” plastic — plastic that has never been used or processed — by 25% and plans to make 100% of its plastic packaging reusable, recyclable or compostable by 2025.

Hill’s Pet Nutrition is launching a recyclable bag in its European markets this year and is working to launch ready-to-recycle packaging in the US in 2022.

Currently, there are no requirements for companies to pursue sustainability efforts, and there is no standard definition of sustainable products. In fact, much of what is sent for recycling still ends up in landfills, due in part to the various difficulties in recycling many plastics.

inside the bag

Recycling packaging and developing packaging materials from recycled materials are just a few parts of the sustainability effort.

Shameless Pets, a dog and cat treatment company, does the task of reducing waste differently.

The company uses recycled ingredients to make its products. Recycling is the process of creating a new product from something unused, in this case unsuitable or surplus food, that would normally go to waste.

Alex Waite, co-founder of Shameless Pets, said seeing how much food is being disposed of at retail, production and supply levels is what motivated the company’s creation. But the company is working to do more.

“We are constantly thinking of ways to achieve sustainability beyond the ingredient level,” White said. “Although food recycling is our main mission, we are aware of the surrounding impact of making and distributing foods. We want to create a holistic approach to being a sustainable pet business that is not only nutrition-based, but also caring for the environment. We are on a mission to reduce waste at every level, such as Assess our energy consumption in production and reduce the single use of virgin plastic in our packaging.”

The Upcycled Food Association, an organization focused on reducing food waste and combating climate change, has about 10 member companies in the pet food industry, including Shameless Pets and Nestlé Purina PetCare.

Cats and dogs are responsible for 25% to 30% of the environmental impact of meat consumption in the United States, according to a 2017 study from the University of California-Los Angeles.

Bar chart: Various ingredients are used in dog and cat food in the United States
Source: Feed Education and Research Institute, North American Exhibitors Association, Pet Food Institute (enlarge)

In response to the study, the Pet Food Institute provided the following statement to JavaPet foods are an important sustainability partner in human food production. By using animal parts that are raised for human food and that Americans choose not to eat, pet food makers can provide cats and dogs with essential nutrition while reducing environmental impact and supporting sustainability by reducing food waste. These ingredients, called by-products, are rigorously specified by the Association of American Feed Control Officials (AAFCO), an organization that develops a model regulation for statewide use.”

One company, Jiminy’s, focuses on using a different type of ingredient – insects. Ann Carlson, founder and CEO of Jiminy’s, said she started the pet food company after a conversation with her daughter.

“She told me she didn’t want to have children because she was worried about what the world would look like, so I decided to do something that would tackle climate change,” Carlson said. After that conversation, I read about how insects could solve world hunger.

After several years of research and development, the company currently sells dog food and treats that use crickets and larvae as the main sources of protein. Larvae are specifically dried black soldier fly larvae. The company also has plans to produce cat food.

AAFCO initially identified dried black soldier fly larvae as an ingredient for use in adult dog foods. The organization is ready to receive applications to identify insects for use in animal food, according to a spokesperson. The identification application process is explained on the AAFCO website, and questions can be sent to him definitionsin ahave a good time [dot] Deer.

Hill’s Pet Nutrition has also identified that protein choices in its food are often a major contributor to carbon emissions, so the company is working on alternatives, said Dave Baloga, Hill’s Pet Nutrition chief of science and technology.

“People are thirsty for more sustainable products, and pet owners who also care deeply about their pets don’t want to choose between the right nutrition for their pets or the planet,” Baluja said. “As supporters of science, we are committed to reducing our environmental footprint, replenishing natural resources, and leading our industry in more ethical and responsible practices. We evaluate our supply chain, including how our ingredients are grown.”

Because Animals, a biotech startup, is another brand that focuses on the ingredients inside pet food pouches.

The company develops farmed or animal-free meat products for cats and dogs.

“Grown meat may look like science fiction, but it isn’t,” said Shannon Falconer, Ph.D., CEO and co-founder of Because, Animals, “The same technology, that is, feeding cells with the nutrients they need to grow and divide inside a warm vessel called a reactor. Bio, they are already used to produce many of the foods we consume, including probiotics, beer and Marmite.”

Dr. Falconer said vets will play a large role in the company’s success.

“For us to be successful, we need veterinarians to tell us what their concerns are and what questions we will need to answer so that they feel comfortable endorsing cultured meat,” Dr. Falconer said. “When it comes to pet food, we all have to admit that there is a problem with sustainability.”

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