Why does it have to be so f-ing hard sometimes?

I just spent an embarrassing amount of time figuring out what to do with a bunch of empty dog food bags. I’m sharing this story because I want to illustrate how hard it can be to be low-waste in our wasteful country and because I know we, as consumers, have the power to change that. Some low or zero waste changes are easy. This one has not been easy at all.


Here’s the sordid tale…

We have two big dogs so we go through a lot of dog food. We usually fill one bag up with as many other bags as we can cram into it and then put it in the recycling. The bags have the recycling symbol on them and we’ve always just assumed they were recyclable. But you know what assuming does…

My dogs did actually chase buffalo when we lived in South Dakota, and I can assure you they would never, ever be able to capture and eat one. But don’t tell them that!

After writing a post on recycling thin plastics, I got curious about our practice of recycling dog food bags and called our local recycling company to see if the bags were, in fact, recyclable. Turns out they aren’t! In fact, those bags can jam the machinery at the recycling plant. So, I called the dog food company and asked how they would suggest I recycle the bags, since our curbside wouldn’t take them. The lady seemed baffled by my question and said the recycling symbol meant they were recyclable, end of story. So I asked my Facebook Zero Waste group and found out this was a problem for a lot of people. I got some good suggestions for repurposing the bags as trash bags or even sewing them into tote bags, but the only suggestion I got for recycling them was through Terracycle, which I’d already researched.

Our dogs – Frankie and Jake – are a BIG part of our family. We adopted them when we lived on Pine Ridge Reservation in South Dakota and they have been with us through thick and thin. Now, if only their food was low-waste!

I love Terracycle, but the problem with the program is that it requires either the manufacturer or the customer to pay for the service. In the case of our chip bags, the company pays for the service, so we just request a packing label and send them on their merry way. But to recycle random dog food bags (i.e. not from a participating company), I would need to spend $110 for a special pet food Terracycle box, so I wrote to the store where I buy the dog food and suggested they get a Terracycle box for their store. Lukewarm response. Since that is likely not happening, I am still stuck with all these bags.

So, where do I go from here? Clearly I am not going to be paying $110 to recycle my bags and clearly I am not going to turn them into totes (it may seem like I have tons of time because I hang my laundry on a clothesline, but I don’t) and I can’t use them as trash bags (we are required to use trash bags that tie), so I guess they are going in the trash. After all that f-ing work.

My next steps are going to be 1) switch to a participating dog food company, so I can use Terracycle for free, and then 2) look for a dog food that comes in a paper bag so I can compost or recycle it as paper instead because, as much as I love Terracycle, I’d rather not be mailing plastic bags unnecessarily. In case you’re wondering, yes, I’ve already tried doing an Ecosia search for “dog food in paper bag” and nothing productive came of it (I did, however, find bird food in a paper bag at Agway, so I made that switch). My third step will be to create my own dog food company and distribute the food in bulk bins and people can fill reusable bags or containers*.

We call Frankie (shown escorting my big kids to get the sap and checking on the baby after she sent herself down the sledding hill) “the babysitter” because he won’t let the kids out of his site. Jake (shown watching over the baby as she “carries” the sap home) is more the strong, silent type. Together, they are a perfect combination of canine companionship.

My real question is this – why does it have to be so f-ing hard? I need to feed my dogs and I’d like to be able to do it with as little waste as possible. Why should I, as the consumer, have to work so hard to make this happen?

And this is just one example of the many, many roadblocks we encounter on our quest for a low-waste lifestyle. I’m sharing it with you not to discourage you, but to encourage you. The more we, as consumers, can act as squeaky wheels, to question wasteful business models, and to speak up for ourselves, the faster businesses will adopt sustainable practices. Businesses want to make money. We want low-waste dog food. We should be able to make that happen!

– Hannah

*If you’d like to steal the refillable pet food idea, please, please, please do because I am actually never going to do it and I will totally be your first customer and biggest supporter.

And, if anyone has figured out a solution to this problem, please let me know in the comments!

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