Transcript for Episode 19: Sustainable Pet-Parenting 101 (Mini)

This is the transcript of Episode 19: Sustainable Pet-Parenting 101 (Mini) of the How to Make a Difference podcast. Go to the episode page to listen to this episode and for the show notes. Furthermore, we encourage you to read our blog post on climate-friendly pet parenting.

Elisabeth Ignasiak: Hey everyone. 

Chinmai Gupta: Hey everyone. 

Elisabeth Ignasiak: Today is our last episode, in the pet parenting series.

Chinmai Gupta: So we thought it might be worth summarizing what we’ve learned so far in terms of climate-friendly and sustainable pet food.

Elisabeth Ignasiak: And, of course, pet parenting is not just about pet food, there’s a lot more to it, and so we will talk a little bit about what pet parents can do outside of buying sustainable pet food.

Chinmai Gupta: So starting with the Low Carbon pet food options. In our opinion, the vegetarian and the vegan options are obviously the best.

Elisabeth Ignasiak: Which are viable options for dogs, who are omnivores, and if you want to try that with your cat speak with your veterinarian. 

Chinmai Gupta: Or else, try and look for pet food companies that you would byproducts.

Elisabeth Ignasiak: As we’ve discussed extensively in the past episodes, the reason byproducts are better for the planet, is that no additional meat has to be grown, so automatically their environmental and carbon footprint is much lower. 

Chinmai Gupta: To know more about byproducts, listen to the last four episodes. 

Elisabeth Ignasiak: Something else that is a really cool innovation is cricket based pet food. 

Chinmai Gupta: You’re really fascinated by cricket based food, aren’t you?

Elisabeth Ignasiak: Yeah, I just think it’s such a clever solution, right? On one hand, it’s meat, so people who want to feed their pets meat, they can, but at the same time, their carbon and environmental footprint is so much lower than for conventional meat. So I just think it’s such a neat solution.

Chinmai Gupta: And my favorite solution is the lab-based meat. 

Elisabeth Ignasiak: I knew you would say that. 

Chinmai Gupta: Yeah. So I’m really waiting for those products to be out in the market, sometime in the next few months.

Elisabeth Ignasiak: Yeah. And obviously, you know it’s one thing to hear about great sustainable alternatives, it’s quite another to feed your pet something completely new. Which is why we invited a veterinarian along to answer some of the most pressing questions that parents might have. 

Side Note: 2:55

Elisabeth Ignasiak: Just a small side note: Chinmai is on leave at the moment and was not able to take part the in interviews. So this time, you will only be hearing my voice and the guests voice, of course.

Interview with Andrea Schmidt: 3:11

Elisabeth Ignasiak: We’re talking to Andrea today. Andrea Schmidt is a veterinarian, with more than 10 years experience. She treats everything from Alpacas to Zebus, but her most common patients are dogs, cats, and cows. Welcome, Andrea. 

Andrea Schmidt: Thanks, Elisabeth, for the invitation and the introduction. I’m very happy to be here today. And just to give you a few words about myself: I’ve studied veterinary science in Munich. And that’s where I met Elisabeth. And yeah, we have been playing underwater hockey for a little while together now. 

Elisabeth Ignasiak: Yes we have. And, you know, when we were exploring this whole pet parenting topic I immediately thought: I have to talk to Andrea! And then I thought: Wait! Our listeners should hear this as well! 

So let’s jump in with the first question that conscious pet parents might have: what should they keep in mind when they’re feeding their pets a climate-friendly diet, say something vegan or insect-based?

Andrea Schmidt: I think the most important thing is that the pet food is well balanced. I think it has to contain the right amount of vitamins, minerals and protein, and so on. You have to keep in mind that, especially in growing pets, or puppy dogs and cats, you can cause serious health problems if the diet is not balanced. So, for example, joint malformations, and so on. So, the most important thing is that the ingredients are balanced, just the right amount. 

Elisabeth Ignasiak: Yeah. I remember when we talked before that you mentioned that it’s really difficult for people on their own to balance it well and that it’s better to… to trust experts in that. 

Andrea Schmidt: Yeah, that’s correct. I mean, it’s better to trust some companies which has experience in that field of nutrition. So I think it’s not very wise to cook for your pet because you never can balance it.

Elisabeth Ignasiak: Okay. So basically this would be true no matter what, let’s say, the diet is, I’m assuming? So that this is true whether… whether it’s vegan, or cricket-based, or normal meat, or lab meat, as long as it’s balanced, it’s fine? Would that be true? 

Andrea Schmidt: Yeah. I think so. As I said before, as long as it’s balanced, it doesn’t matter if you feed the one food, or the other. 

Elisabeth Ignasiak: Okay. That’s really good to know.

Andrea Schmidt: Maybe, maybe one thing to add: I’m not 100% sure, but I think there are no long term studies concerning the effect of vegan, or cricket-based foods. So you have to keep in mind that there might still be a little bit of research to be done in that field of nutrition.

Elisabeth Ignasiak: Thank you for pointing that out. I guess it does makes sense. I mean, some of these are very innovative and new solutions. So obviously there wouldn’t be any data, yet about the long term effects. 

Andrea Schmidt: Yeah.

Elisabeth Ignasiak: And switching gears slightly: One thing we had quite contrary views on, within our guests, was regarding meat byproducts, and whether they’re healthy and nutritional for pets to eat and how hygienic their treatment is. I was wondering if you could speak to regulations in Europe, and whether you know, if we can trust pet foods based on byproducts.

Andrea Schmidt: Basically, byproducts are products from the slaughter which are not used for human food, for example, parts of internal organs like lungs, liver, or kidneys, some parts of the skin, bones, and so on. And they are divided into categories. There are categories, which has to be thrown away and burnt, and other categories can be used for, let’s say, pet food, or cosmetic products.

Elisabeth Ignasiak: Okay. 

Andrea Schmidt: As far as I can say, there are very strict rules and laws and regulations. And they have to be controlled, and of course, they are treated before they can be used for pet food. So I would say that pet food which you can buy in Germany, or in Europe and which contain this kind of byproducts are pretty safe because of the strict regulations.

Elisabeth Ignasiak: Okay, I think our listeners will be glad to hear that. 

So, one last thing, I mean, I think it’s slightly off-topic but I thought since we’re talking about animals and nutrition: I wanted to mention ducks, because everybody loves ducks, and we love feeding them because it’s… it’s really cute when you, you know, throw bread into the pond, and they all come and they’re really happy to eat it. But I heard that, apparently, it’s really bad for them, that it bloats their stomachs and that they actually die much younger if you feed them bread. Is that true?

Andrea Schmidt: Yes, it is. It’s correct that the bread can swell in the stomach, and, of course, that can cause serious health problems. And the other thing is, that most people, which feed them bread, they do feed them bread which they don’t want to eat anymore. This can also contain, for example, bacteria, or fungus spores, which can make them also ill. So I would recommend not to feed them bread. And to be honest, they just don’t need it because they can find enough food in and around the water.

Elisabeth Ignasiak: So if I’m… if I’m a parent and I have small kids, and I want to feed ducks: Is there something better I could feed them?

Andrea Schmidt: Well, you can collect insects, or worms… some worms, or maybe kind of grass. It’s not good to… to feed them bread.

Elisabeth Ignasiak: Okay, thanks. Thanks for clarifying that. Yeah, so happy worm hunting, if you want to… to feed ducks. 

Andrea Schmidt: Yeah.

Elisabeth Ignasiak: Thank you for your time and thank you for explaining all these things. This was really helpful and I’m sure our listeners will be much more comfortable in feeding their pets healthy, and climate-friendly diets. Thank you, Andrea.

Andrea Schmidt: Thank you.

Discussion: 10:11

Elisabeth Ignasiak: So this concludes our extensive deep dive into pet food. But now, let’s look at all the other things surrounding pet parenting, starting with a very cool interview we had with a pet supplies company.

Chinmai Gupta: And after this interview, we have some other very interesting tips to give to you in terms of how you can reduce your pet’s carbon pawprint. So don’t go away.

Elisabeth Ignasiak: We know some of you are skippers that skip over the rest of the episode after an interview, but this time you really should listen, because we have some really cool pet parenting tips for you

Chinmai Gupta: Pure gold dust. 

Elisabeth Ignasiak: Exactly. 

Chinmai Gupta: But before that, let’s jump into the second interview.

Interview with Chantal Saelen: 11:10

Elisabeth Ignasiak: We’re talking to Chantal Saelen today, she’s the managing director of Moderna Products, a company producing pet supplies like bowls, pet carriers, and litter boxes. Welcome, Chantal. 

Chantal Saelen: Thank you. 

Elisabeth Ignasiak: Why don’t we start by you telling us a little bit about yourself and what you do? 

Chantal Saelen: Okay. So my name is Chantel, and I, together with my husband, we formed the third generation of Moderna Products, leading the company. So Moderna was founded by my grandfather in 1932. And he started off with making buttons for the clothing industry. So there was a bit of transition in the business models during the different generations, where we find ourselves today making plastic pet supply. 

Elisabeth Ignasiak: So it’s a family business. 

Chantal Saelen: Yes, family business. 100% owned by us, and run by us. 

Elisabeth Ignasiak: Very cool. Can we talk a bit about what Moderna is doing to produce more sustainable pet supplies? 

Chantal Saelen: Well, actually it all started with looking at the industry and looking at what we’re doing. To summarize with a fascinating quote that we are using, quite often is: “Plastic is fantastic”. You’re gonna say: Really?

Elisabeth Ignasiak: Please tell us more.

Chantal Saelen: Because we think that: Today, there is no alternative as a raw material that is so lightweight, so cheap, with so many different properties and possibilities to transform that it is fantastic. It’s not the worst product in the world, when we look at different industries: agriculture, fashion, a lot of consumer goods as well. I only see two challenges with plastic: singles use items and the recycling process. 

Elisabeth Ignasiak: Okay.

Chantal Saelen: That’s all. 

Elisabeth Ignasiak: I think now, all our listener’s ears are gonna peak up and say: What? Plastic is good? So… 

Chantal Saelen: It is fantastic, even.

Elisabeth Ignasiak: Let’s maybe talk a little bit more why you are using plastic rather than say, natural materials like bamboo or things like that. 

Chantal Saelen: Yes. There’s two different things: There is a 100% plastic resin and then there is 100% biodegradable. Both are okay, if you know how to deal with them. 

There is lot of greenwashing. Because, if I say: For us, there is no alternative, because we are making food bowls, cat litter boxes. So they need to keep the food in, not leaking – talking about cat litter boxes. So, there is no alternative there. But the problem starts when manufacturers start making blends of let’s say, plastic with bamboo. And then they market it very nice with those cardboard labels and they say: Hey, this is containing 50% bamboo. So to create a perception that it is a lot better for the planet, which is actually making a lot things worse, because, at the end of life cycle of the product, this is not recyclable. You cannot put it in the ground because plastic is not gonna biodegrade, and you cannot recycle it because the bamboo fibres are in there. So there is a lot of greenwashing and there is a lot of misperception about using natural fibres. You need to be very careful with that. 

Elisabeth Ignasiak: Yeah, I think another example is, you know, when you go to the supermarket and you buy, whatever it is, ham in what looks like paper packaging, but it’s just paper lined with plastic which is, again, not, not recyclable, or very difficult to do.

Chantal Saelen: Yes. 

Elisabeth Ignasiak: So how… how are you making then these plastic products more sustainable? Because, I think, still, people will intuitively think: Okay, plastic – it stays in the nature forever. We’ve all heard about, you know, ocean plastic, microplastics, etc. So what is different about your products?

Chantal Saelen: Well as I said: A couple of years ago we looked at ourselves and said: Hey, we wanna be sustainable and be a future proof organization, let’s question a couple of things here. And we came to the conclusion that, okay, as of today, everything we do, or we change doing, needs to be for the better – we call it betterness – without compromising on the quality of the product we have today. So it doesn’t make sense to come up with a product that the consumer cannot choose bright colours anymore because it’s recycled. So we managed to come up with a product that is… we can use as bright colours as we had before, with a 98% recycled material in the product. 

So we set ourselves concrete action goals. And for 2021, our goal is transitioning our total facility to using 35% recycled material in our overall production – with products that remain 100% recyclable! So that’s already a big step forward if we start using 35% recycled material as a raw material. And we wanna speed up that process every year and that’s what, again, what we call betterness. Our own…

Elisabeth Ignasiak: Yeah. Let me just see if I got it right. So basically, you’re putting a strong focus on recycling, on the one side – using recycled materials, as a base for your product. And on the other hand, making sure that your product is recyclable, which I think is something many companies forget at the other end, right? Using recycled material is one thing but having it be still recyclable, is quite a different conversation.

Chantal Saelen: Yes, and there… We need everybody involved in the value chain. Also, the consumer that needs to take care of the product at the end of the lifecycle. Here again, it’s a big frustration for us: We cannot lay our hand on enough recycled material that’s available on the market. We have to limit ourselves today to 35%. We could do more. Because we have transformed our production processes, our tooling,… but there is not enough recycled material available! I don’t know why. And it’s really frustrating.

Elisabeth Ignasiak: When we talk about recycled materials, I think, intuitively we know that it’s much better for the environment than to use virgin materials. Maybe, switching gears slightly: I know that you’ve recently joined the board of the Pet Sustainability Coalition. I was wondering if you would mind telling us a little bit about what they do? 

Chantal Saelen: So the Pet Sustainability Coalition is a great organization because they are focused on the pet industry. So actually, we are well aware of the fact that having pets also involves a considerable footprint. And if we wanna keep our industry sustainable, we need to question ourselves. So instead of having consultants from different industries that are not very familiar with everything that’s going on in our industry, let’s say ahead of all of that, and make sure that we are creating awareness within our industry. And then taking positive action by exchanging experiences between different departments within our industry. So yes, much welcomed and yeah…

Elisabeth Ignasiak: So it sounds like the… the Pet Sustainability Coalition is mainly for members of the pet industry to exchange ideas, innovations, to how they can turn their businesses into more sustainable ones. 

Chantal Saelen: Yes, but also you can accredit your company. So they… you fill out questionnaires… you get a roadmap… If you don’t know nothing about sustainability, this is a great starting point, for sure.

Elisabeth Ignasiak: Very cool. Well, so last but not least, where can people find you?

Chantal Saelen: I’m the leading lady at Moderna Products. And Moderna does not stand for the vaccine so… initially when people were googling Moderna Products, they were always coming to our website. Now, there is a choice between vaccines and pet products. So yes. They can find me on LinkedIn, they can find me through my website. Moderna Pet Product.

Elisabeth Ignasiak: Very good. We will put all the links in the show notes, so people can find you very easily.

Chantal Saelen: Yeah. 

Elisabeth Ignasiak: Well thank you so much, Chantal. That was really insightful. Thank you for taking the time. 

Chantal Saelen:

With pleasure. It was nice and fun doing this with you also. 

Discussion: 19:34

Elisabeth Ignasiak: One thing I thought was interesting about the interview with Chantel, is her comment on plastics, only having two problems: single-use plastics and recycling. I thought that was a really interesting view. 

Chinmai Gupta: I agree. So not only are their products made from recycled plastic, but their products can also be recycled, in turn, and I thought that was really interesting.

Elisabeth Ignasiak: And I did a little bit of research and recycled plastic has a much lower carbon footprint than virgin plastic.

Chinmai Gupta: So what we’re trying to say, is that buying pet supplies from the right company can also have a huge impact on the environment. 

And before we end the show, we thought we’d give you a few more tips on how to reduce your pet’s carbon pawprint.

Elisabeth Ignasiak: Yeah, we found a really cool blog post by Patricia Khuly on The Honest Kitchen’s website. 

Chinmai Gupta: Her tip number one is don’t over feed your pets. 

Elisabeth Ignasiak: Yeah, we cannot emphasize that enough. Like so many pets are obese, and by feeding them less, it’s not just good for the planet, it’s also much healthier for your pet.

Chinmai Gupta: She also goes on to say that feed your pets chicken or fish and not beef as beef takes so much more energy to produce.

Elisabeth Ignasiak: Another important topic when it comes to pets is poop. So, one thing is: How do you dispose of it? And there’s two things that are very clear that you shouldn’t do, which is one: You shouldn’t flush it down the toilet because most water recycling systems can’t handle pet poop. And the other thing that is clear is: You shouldn’t leave it outside in the environment because it contains a lot of harmful pathogens and things that we don’t want to get into our local groundwater. So please don’t leave any poop lying around. And as far as we learned, the best way to dispose of it is just in the normal bin.

And one more tip when it comes to poop that we found on this blog is litter. Switch to more sustainable and biodegradable litter options and what I thought was quite interesting: The blog also says that cats often resist littler changes. So if you are attempting to switch to a more sustainable alternative you should do it slowly. 

Chinmai Gupta: And last but not the least, keep your pets from reproducing.

Elisabeth Ignasiak: And that’s it for today. See you next week where we jump into a really cool new topic. Bye-bye. 

Chinmai Gupta: Bye-bye.