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Waste-Free Pets

Pets can become important members of the family. Photo by Natalie Mendham

People clearly love having pets and have done so throughout history. The majority of pet owners view their animals as being part of the family. In Australia, approximately 62 per cent of households own a pet— domestic dogs and cats are the most common pets (with 4.8 and 2.8 million dogs and cats, respectively, recorded in 2016).

And the desire for pet ownership seems to be increasing, as the dog population rose by 600 000 between 2013 and 2016. Australians spend more than $12.2 billion on pet products and services each year. So we are talking about a massive industry and a whole lot of mouths to feed.

Most people feed their dog or cat pre-prepared and processed pet food, and the majority of pet accessories available are made from synthetic and plastic materials. The environmental impacts of owning a pet are often not immediately apparent, but with a considered approach, you can keep the impact of owning a pet to a minimum.

It’s well worth taking the time to decide what sort of pet is right for you, and taking the waste that comes with owning a pet into account. Would you like to buy a pet from a breeder or give a loving home to a pet that has been abandoned?

Do you want your pet to provide food, such as eggs, for your family, or fertiliser for your garden? Will keeping your pet create excess waste to send to land fill? Is a large pet going to create more waste than you can feasibly deal with on your patch of land? Will your pet require food that needs to travel from afar, or come in plastic or non-recyclable packaging? If so, how do you plan to deal with this?


Ah dogs, the ultimate waste-disposal units. Always willing to lend a hand to clean the plates after a meal and fantastically useful for keeping the floor tidy after toddler dinners (who needs a robotic vacuum cleaner?).

Dogs can also generate a bit of waste, particularly in the puppy phase, if you’re not careful. Be sure to offer fresh bones and toys made from compostable materials and keep your slippers safely away to avoid any mishaps! There’s also the waste created through dog poo and how it is dealt with. It’s important that you clean up after your dog when out in public to prevent disease and unfortunate (and stinky) accidents for others. Many public parks provide plastic dog poo bags for collecting waste and sending it to landfill, but there are compostable options to consider too.

There are home compostable plastic bags you can buy, but we prefer to reuse paper bags and bring them (and their contents) home to compost in our worm farm (see next page).


Cats provide excellent company and help prevent mice and rats from nibbling away at food stores, creating waste. But they also love to prey on local wildlife, especially birds. Birds are important for biodiversity and can help pollinate, fertilise and keep garden pests to a minimum, so if you decide to own a cat, keep in mind ways to protect your local wildlife from your beloved pet (this includes dogs, too). Most pet cats in Australia eat food that comes in small cans or plastic packaging. This does not have to be the case though, with some cats eating a raw meat or homemade diet with great success.

Cats can create litter, which will need to be disposed of carefully. Cats are the main carriers of the parasite that can lead to toxoplasmosis infection, which is potentially dangerous for pregnant women and not great for humans in general. Parasite eggs (oocysts) are found in cat poo. Toxoplasmosis can also harm sea life, affecting mammals, birds and other creatures globally. Sewerage treatment doesn’t kill the parasite’s eggs, suggesting that your toilet is not a suitable place to dispose of your cat’s poo. A compostable bag or newspaper to landfill is another option, but in an anaerobic land fill environment, all that kitty litter will be there forever.

Another option is a purpose-built worm farm. Compost from your worm farm can be buried around fruit trees and ornamentals, keeping your family (and the environment) relatively safe from this toxin. If you discover you have too much litter once the poo has been removed, it can make useful mulch around plants in out-of-the-way spots in your garden. Choose a natural clay or paper litter so it will break down in your garden.

Rabbits are not just cute, they can become part of your permaculture system. Photo by Natalie Mendham


Rabbits and guinea pigs are amazing composters! Their poo and bedding make a near-perfect ratio of nitrogen to carbon, so you can use their bedding directly on your garden. It’s also great to add to your compost bin. Rabbits and guinea pigs can also help keep your lawn down and nibble vegie scraps from your kitchen. You may need to consider where your supply of bedding and supplemental food (if needed) might come from and seek to source it without packaging.


Chooks and ducks are great waste-disposal units, soil enrichers and pest managers. They will happily eat most scraps from your kitchen (except citrus, onions, potatoes and avocados). If kept under fruit trees, they will eat garden pests (such as coddling moth) while providing perfect nitrogen fertiliser. They will also keep weeds down and can live on scraps and your garden if you have space to grow enough of the plants they like. If you need to supplement their feed, look for food in bulk or reusable sacks.

If you keep ducks, a bath filled with water is perfect for them to swim in and makes for fine watering and fertilising (fertigation) when emptied onto your fruit trees. As an added bonus, ducks and chickens give you delicious eggs and meat, as well as feathers. And they’re hilarious to watch. We reckon they’re the ultimate pet.


Fish can be wonderful and useful pets. A humble goldfish will provide fertilised water for your garden or keep bugs to a minimum in a backyard pond. Fish in an aquaponics system will provide fertiliser for plants and food for your family! One difficult part of keeping fish can be maintaining a balanced ecosystem for them to live in. Nitrogen and pH levels need to be kept in check, occasionally requiring the use of cleaners and conditioning agents. Food for fish generally needs to be fed from an external source and often comes in plastic, so look into the best source of food for your fish if you intend to keep them in a low-waste way.


There are a range of options for feeding your pet a zero-waste diet, from raw meat diets to home-cooked food. Cats are carnivores, so generally do best on a raw meat diet, including small bones, fish and organ meats, although they can tolerate some vegetables and even certain grains (such as rice) in small amounts. They also like a little raw egg and fresh greens. Some cooked foods can also be tolerated.

Dogs have omnivorous tendencies and can cope with a broad range of foods, so do well with raw meats and bones, vegetables, some grains, eggs, greens and leftovers. Some butchers make their own raw pet food, or you can buy raw bones and meats and make your own. We’ve found a combination of cooked food and raw bones works well for our pets, but check with your vet first if you’re unsure if it’s right for yours. It’s also important to transition pets towards a different eating approach slowly so their digestive system can adjust. This is our base recipe for pet food which we alter depending on what we have in the fridge and what’s seasonal. We use wallaby mince because it’s a local, ethically sourced wild meat and our animals prefer it. But most other meats will be fine.


  • 1 kg wallaby or kangaroo mince, or organ meats
  • 2 cups oats, rice or quinoa, or even leftover cooked grains
  • 1 head of broccoli (including the stalk)
  • 1 head of cauliflower
  • 3 carrots
  • 3 potatoes, or 1 large sweet potato
  • 6 to 8 eggs


  • 1 teaspoon ground cinnamon (for fresh breath)
  • 1 tablespoon ground eggshells (for extra calcium)
  • 1 teaspoon ground turmeric (to prevent inflammation and promote good health)
  • 1 handful of parsley (for extra minerals and fresh breath)
  • 1 tablespoon olive oil or similar (especially if you’re using a low-fat meat such as wallaby)
  • 1 fish oil capsule added to the meal when serving (for extra nourishment and silky fur)
  • 1 raw egg served with the meal a couple of times per week (for extra nourishment)


  1. Place all the ingredients in a large slow cooker. Add water until everything is just covered.
  2. Cover and cook in the slow cooker for 6–8 hours. If you don’t have a slow cooker, place the ingredients in a large stockpot on the stove, bring to the boil, then turn down the heat and simmer for 2 hours (or until the vegetables are soft), stirring occasionally.
  3. The mixture should have boiled down by now and become a delicious (to pets) mushy mess. Break up any large chunks and mix it a bit with a potato masher.
  4. Cool and place in jars or containers to freeze, saving some aside to introduce to your pet when ready.
Chickens make great pets but also provide so much for our homes and gardens. Photo by Natalie Mendham


It is possible to use the waste pets create as a resource in your garden. You can convert their poo to compost in a dedicated worm farm and use the compost to feed ornamental plants and fruit trees (keep it away from vegies and edible herbs to avoid any immediate toxins).


  • A container to keep the worms in. Try an old bath, bin or barrel, Styrofoam boxes, old car tyres, a purpose-built box or a kit from your local nursery.
  • A piece of mesh to cover any holes and keep the worms in. Fly screen or shade cloth are ideal.
  • Some bedding material. Try mushroom compost, garden soil, coconut fibre or garden compost, or lightly dampened shredded paper (this is ideal if you want to compost pet poo).
  • Worms! You’ll need about 1000 worms specifically bred for farming. Look for tiger worms or red or blue wrigglers. Common garden worms are great for soil improvement, but not so effective in a worm farm.
  • Worm food. For composting pet poo, don’t feed them other food along with the poo, as they’ll just eat the food and ignore the poo (who wouldn’t!). If you want a regular worm farm for your vegie scraps instead of poo, make sure to stay away from citrus and onions. Worms love soft food scraps, hair clippings, crushed egg shells, vacuum cleaner dust, coffee grounds, tea bags, sawdust, soaked cardboard and shredded paper.
  • Dampened newspaper and hessian or similar to cover the worms.


  1. If you’re creating a layered box system to collect worm tea, you’ll need something watertight for your bottom layer. In a bath, you might choose to place a bucket under the drain hole. If you’re using a Styrofoam box, place a watertight one on the bottom. Grab the box or container that will house the worms and make sure there are holes in the bottom for drainage. Place it on your watertight tea-collecting bottom layer if you have one.
  2. Place the mesh over the holes. If you’re using a bath, cover the plughole.
  3. Place the worm bedding material in the box or container.
  4. Add the worms to the middle of the box. If you’re using a bath, place them at one end.
  5. Add some poo for the worms to eat. Use the worm farm when you’re cleaning up your pet’s litter tray or dog poo in conjunction with carbon matter, such as shredded paper or recycled paper kitty litter. Try to keep a good balance between the carbon and nitrogen-based matter in your worm farm. If you’re using a bath, just feed the worms up the end where the worms were placed.
  6. Place a doubled-up sheet of dampened newspaper on top of the worm farm to retain moisture and keep the worms comfy. Then pop a cover on the worm farm—a layer of hessian or the lid your kit came with will work.
  7. In a few weeks you’ll be able to collect worm tea to feed your garden! Stick to ornamentals and fruit trees if your worms are eating pet poo.
  8. As the worm farm fills up, you’ll be able to place another box or layer on top and fill it with bedding and food for the worms to migrate to. If you’re using a bath, start feeding the worms at the other end of the bath and they’ll move along to their new feeding place.
  9. Harvest the beautifully broken-down compost from the previous nesting and feeding box and use it on the garden. Happy farming!


Make sure not to overfeed your worms. Start with a small amount of food and watch to see how quickly they can break it down. Keep an eye on them as you add more.

Don’t feed pet poo to your worms if you’ve recently wormed your pets, as worming medication will kill your worm farm!

This is an extract from A Family Guide to Waste-Free Living by Lauren and Oberon Carter (Pan Macmillan Australia, 2019)



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