People want the best for their pets, but the environmental impact of feeding them is massive and demand for more pets is growing. The world’s more than half a billion domesticated animals (mostly cats and dogs) consume up to a fifth of the world’s meat and fish produced — meat production being a major perpetrator of rising greenhouse gas (GHG) emissions.
The result? Global pet food production emits the equivalent of more than 106 million tonnes of carbon dioxide per year — more than Mozambique, a country of 32 million people. Packaging waste is another major issue. In the US, 99% of the 300 million lbs of plastic pet food packaging ends up in landfill every year.
The problem will worsen over the next five years, with the pet food industry projected to grow by 70% and reach USD 220 billion in market value by 2028. Millennials are driving this furry baby boom — having children later in life, more disposable income and the flexibility to work from home. Pet culture has also expanded in high-population, emerging markets like China, Brazil and Mexico, where increased disposable income means more pets. Feeding more cats and dogs translates into more GHGs, less fresh water and more plastic waste.
But pets are good for us in many ways. They provide immense social (and some environmental) benefits to society. Pets reduce loneliness, boost mental health and provide a sense of purpose — particularly for children and the elderly. Dog owners are four times more likely than non pet owners to reach the recommended level of daily physical activity and spend more time in nature, which has been linked to pro-environmental behaviours like better recycling habits and reduced energy use.
Keeping our pets (and ourselves) healthy doesn’t have to be such a burden to the planet. Some companies are tackling the packaging waste issue. Mars Petcare trialled refillable pet food dispensers with supermarket chain Carrefour in 2022 and has committed to making its packaging 100% recyclable, reusable or compostable by 2025. Several dog food companies use plant protein instead of meat to cut emissions — Omni’s plant protein reduces emissions by 85%, while maintaining 30% protein by weight (the high end of what’s recommended for dogs). Others, like pet food tech company Petgood replace animal protein with insect protein to cut 94% of GHG emissions and save 80% of water per gram of protein produced. Pets may not notice the difference. The challenge will be convincing owners to make the switch, particularly if they have to pay a premium.