Nosing out planet-friendly options when we shop, eat, clean, work and play not only helps preserve our planet for future generations, it makes our environment safer and healthier — for us, our pups and all the other creatures on the planet — right now. So, to inspire better choices, we offer ideas and reminders on greening up indoors and out.
From cleaning with natural substances to building with resource-smart materials, there are many ways to keep a greener, pet-safe home. Start small. Clean with traditional substances, such as beeswax polish, vinegar, baking soda and lemon juice — they’re effective and safe.
Vinegar, one of the oldest (and least expensive) cleaning substances available, is perfect for “green” cleaning. Among its many virtues, it can be used to:
• Clean toilets. Pour in vinegar, put down the lid, let stand overnight.
• Wash windows. Spray on, wipe dry with newspaper.
• Cut grease and “dog-spit” slipperiness. Rinse dishes and dog bowls in a vinegar and water solution.
• Mop floors. Mix 1/2 cup to 1 gallon of water.
• Make copper and brass shine. Buff with warm vinegar and salt.
• Keep drains flowing. Pour 1 cup of baking soda and 3 tablespoons of vinegar into the drain, let sit for a while (overnight is best), flush with boiling water.
While white vinegar is recommended for cleaning, apple cider vinegar can be your dog’s friend. Use it to soothe hot spots and clean ears.
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Baking soda is an awesome odor-eliminator for more than those strange smells in the fridge. Tackle canine-created aromas in your carpet by sprinkling baking soda on the surface, waiting 15 minutes (or longer for strong smells), then vacuuming. You can do the same with your dog’s bedding. (By the way, running only full loads of dog towels and bedding can save up to 3,400 gallons of water a year.)
Pet accident on a rug or carpet? Soak up as much as you can, wash the area with club soda and let dry. Then, sprinkle with baking soda, wait a bit and vacuum. (Test this technique on an outof- the-way spot to be sure it won’t discolor your carpet.)
Baking soda is also a fantastic dog-grooming helper. See details.
• Greaseproof linings on dog food bags may be a significant dietary source of PFCs. Look for food that comes in bags with untreated aluminum foil liners.
• Don’t use pans with nonstick coatings. There’s still a lot of controversy about this, but old-fashioned cast iron is looking better and better.
• Don’t use pesticides or fungicides, or use them only sparingly and after all else has failed.
• And here’s the depressing finale: vacuum, vacuum, vacuum. While you’re at it, experts recommend dusting once a week with a damp cloth. Less dust equals lower exposure for everyone in the household, no matter how you cut it.
When building or renovating, use resource-smart building materials such as wood, bamboo, cork, linoleum, concrete, tile, terrazzo and stone; zero- to low-VOC paint finishes and adhesives; and nonaerosol products. They are safer for you and your dog (as well as for environment).
Also, look into incorporating reclaimed materials in your project. You’ll get lots of character and earn good landfill karma.
Even though it’s a popular flooring choice, PVC continues to be the subject of considerable controversy. Its production releases an extraordinarily toxic chemical — dioxin —and many, including the Healthy Building Network, consider PVC to be one of the “most environmentally hazardous consumer materials produced.”
Did you know that dust has a dirty little secret? Many environmental health and veterinary experts believe that chronic exposure to the synthetic industrial pollutants, such as PFCs and PBDEs used in flame retardants and stain-repellants that end up in house dust, may be at least partially responsible for skyrocketing cancer rates in dogs these days.
Consider feeding your dog organic, natural, locally sourced food in ceramic or stainless steel bowls. Avoid plastic, which can leach chemicals.
Seek out safe, planet-friendly toys without preservatives, toxic metals, chemicals or latex that dogs can absorb with they lick and chew.
Skip the car for errands. Train your pup to ride in a cart or basket, and take your bike.
Some portion of the grooming products you use will end up in your dog’s belly and wash into waterways. Use shampoos and conditioners with nontoxic, organic and biodegradable ingredients and free of coloring, preservatives and fragrance. Bonus points for shampoo bars that cut down on plastic waste.
Fight Off Fleas
Fleas make our dogs so miserable that we’re often tempted to reach for the chemicals. Recently, however, the Environmental Protection Agency issued warnings about adverse health reactions in pets and children exposed to many topical flea-and-tick preparations as well as to flea collars containing propoxur. There is an alternative — a natural, albeit proactive, way to control these pests, according to Gina Solomon, a senior scientist at the Natural Resources Defense Council (NRDC).
• Bathe your dogs every two weeks (lather drowns fleas; leave it on for three to five minutes).
• Wash dogs’ bedding regularly.
• Vacuum carpets every week to remove flea eggs.
• Use a flea comb daily. It works!
For a complete breakdown of good, bad and ugly flea- and- tick control methods, check out NRDC’s GreenPaws fact sheet.
In the Garden
Grow your own organic produce in a dog-friendly garden. Planting a garden doesn’t mean excluding your dogs from the yard — instead, include them in your plan. Set aside an area (or areas) for your pup, with shade in the summer and protection from wind, rain or snow in the winter. If your dog is a digger, create a digging pit.
One of the easiest green investments you can make is to grow vegetables, fruit and herbs for you and your dog, organically of course. That means no chemicals — no pesticides, herbicides or chemical fertilizers. Use all-natural compost, and bone up on ingredients, absorption rates and application instructions before applying such products; even organic fertilizers such as manures and fish emulsions can be harmful to your dog.
Plant shrubs and grasses in masses to discourage dogs from entering an area. Raised beds also act as a deterrent to digging or unauthorized “harvesting.”
Avoid cocoa-bean mulches; their chocolaty smell makes them pup catnip, but they contain theobromine, which is toxic for dogs and causes serious gastrointestinal problems.
Create dog zones. Not all fruits and vegetables are safe for dogs to eat. Put a barrier around plants of the nightshade family, including eggplant, tomato and potato; their leaves contain alkaloids that can harm a dog.
Do not use slug or snail bait, even those that purport to be nontoxic, such as Sluggo. Alternatives include setting out a dish with beer in it (snails love the odor but so do dogs — cover the dish so only mollusks can enter); placing copper strips (available at most gardening stores) or pet fur around the base of plants; or scheduling early-morning “snail-gathering” forays. (For more snail-defying schemes, visit Organiclesson's "how to" page or go here for natural ways to get rid of slugs.)
Need help with yard work? Enlist your dog. Think of easy chores for her to do, perhaps fetching a small tool, such as a hand trowel. Large breeds can be taught to pull small carts to help move soil, plant trimmings and other garden material (be sure not to overload the cart). Help with digging? Great for dogs who are trained to dig on request; dogs have also been known to help turn the compost!
Keep pet waste out of landfills and waterways.
Want to make a dog-loving environmentalist’s heart sink? Collect dog poop in non-degradable plastic and pitch it into the garbage. Or worse, leave it; uncollected waste is not only a source of bacteria, but also may contain chemicals from canine medications that can be washed into local waterways. Luckily, there are other options.
Consider installing an underground pet-waste digester. These devices, such as the Doggy Dooley, work like small septic systems and involve minimum hassle. Find step-by-step instructions for making and installing a DIY version here. City dwellers without yards might want to try flushable poop bags. (Caveat: Not recommended for septic systems or for sewage pipes that have been invaded by roots.) Once flushed, dog waste is processed along with human waste in your local sewage-treatment facility.
Some municipalities do their part. If you live in a progressive enclave like Cambridge, Mass. (and someday, Gilbert, Ariz.), your dog’s poop might be converted to methane and used as a power source. The Tompkins County off-leash area in Ithaca, N.Y., provides bio bags for collection and a poop-composting program.
Reduce: Avoid products with unnecessary packaging, and skip disposable products altogether. The pet-products industry is filled with a disappointing array of convenience items, from food-bowl liners and shrink-wrapped chews to toothbrushes preloaded with toothpaste for one-time use.
Think durable. Skip the plastic flea comb that breaks easily and choose a metal comb that will last. Saves money in the long run.
When traveling, carry your dog’s water in your own aluminum or stainless-steel container. Americans use 3.3 million plastic bottles every hour, but recycle only one in five.
Reduce pet overpopulation: Spay or neuter your dog.
Reuse: One man’s trash is one dog’s treasure. For example, take the humble but worn-out yoga mat. It has many uses beyond keeping you from sliding out of position in downward dog. Cut out a square to use as a placemat that will catch splashes and keep dog dishes in place; roll it up as a draft stopper (your old pup will thank you); if you have wood or tile floors, use it like a throw rug to provide your older dog with safe footing; or slice it to create safety treads for slippery stairs.
Convert old dishtowels into dog toys by tying a knot at the center.
Old inner tubes (and waterproof tape) are all you need to create cheap waterproof dog booties — a reuse idea hunters employed back in the 1970s.
Recycle: Of course you compost or recycle food containers — paper, aluminum and recyclable plastic, but remember to wash them well first. Food contamination of recycled goods is a major contributor to these materials ending up in landfills.
Look for manufacturers of beds, collars and leashes who incorporate second-life materials, such as reprocessed cotton filler or fleece made from recycled plastic bottles.
Seek out companies with proven commitments to recycling packaging materials and waste products on the production end.
Collect your dog’s fur and spin it into yarn, then make a sweater — 40 ounces will do the trick. Or felt it and make a dog collar from it. Or just leave it outside for birds to pick up for their nest-building.
“Recycle” a dog: adopt a rescue or shelter pup!