Most pets can’t read (though I’m convinced my two dogs can or they wouldn’t play tug-o-war with the morning paper every time I forget to put it out of reach). That means that our best friends rely on us to keep them safe. If you’re reading this magazine you’re likely one of the select few responsible, caring dog owners. You may be laser focused on what’s inside the foods and products you buy for your dog. But have you considered the packages themselves?
Pet Food Packaging Dangers
Have you ever taken a big drink from a plastic water bottle that’s been sitting in the hot car for a couple of days and wondered who injected liquid plastic flavoring into your mountain spring refreshment? It’s well known that chemicals used in packaging can migrate into foods, but what are the potential health dangers for our pets?
Bisphenol A (BPA)
BPA causes endocrine disruption, which inhibits the production and function of natural hormones. Research links BPA to possible negative health effects such as impaired brain function, heart disease, diabetes, cancer, asthma, and reproductive disorders. BPA is very common in plastic packages and is often found in coatings inside paper and metal containers. We see it in packaging for both frozen and dry dog foods, treats, and supplements (it’s also prevalent in food and water bowls made from plastic).
Like BPA, phthalates are another endocrine disruptor and are found in many types of plastics. Printing inks on paper can also contain phthalates (and other endocrine disruptors including benzophenones and mineral oils). Phthalates are not bound tightly to plastics, and therefore easily leach into foods and liquids. Reproductive toxicity, allergies, asthma, and malformations of the reproductive system have been linked to phthalates, yet they remain common in packaging.
What types of packaging materials are best, and what should you be aware of with each potentially safer solution?
Not all plastics are evil! Though many of the common plastics contain chemicals that none of us want to feed our pets, there are more ecological, safer alternatives. Biofilms, for instance, are often made from non-genetically modified corn and can perform as well as or better than conventional plastics. Biofilms are often an ideal packaging solution for foods.
Overall, biofilms can be a good choice, although not all are the same and some are made from genetically modified corn and recent research has shown certain types can leach chemicals. But overall, biofilms are a giant step in the right direction.
This should be a no brainer because glass is clean, solid, and considered to be infinitely recyclable. It’s never been shown to leach anything. That said, glass is extremely breakable and very heavy. Have you ever tried to feed Fido out of glass? Not a pretty picture. By itself, glass is one of the cleanest options, yet it does require a lid and that’s where things can get sticky. Seals are usually made of PVC, so our pets could be at risk. However, depending on the packaging inside the glass and where the seal is located between the lid and glass, many products don’t come in contact with the lid and are generally safe.
Tin, Steel and Aluminum
Tin, steel and aluminum are right up there in recyclability with glass. Cans are everywhere, and where would dog food be without them? As with most things however, they’re very often coated with a material to protect against rust, food discoloration, and flavor loss. Some of these coatings should be cause for concern. Fortunately there have been leaps and bounds made in coating research and there are a number of much safer coatings out there for companies to discover and utilize in products.
Paper is a great product for earth friendly recycling; however, paper can only be recycled so many times. It eventually wears out and needs new (potentially damaging) additives to make it stronger. The other issue is that, again, most paper packaging needs a coating to prevent spoilage and odor from escaping. Depending on the type of coating, there’s the potential for chemicals to escape into the contents the package is meant to protect. Plus, some of those coatings prevent the paper from ever being recycled again.
Just like paper, cardboard is recyclable, but it’s stronger and can be recycled a few more times. Unfortunately, cardboard alone is not a good protector of products and it too needs coatings or a liner often made of plastic (BPA and phthalate warning!). Also, from an environmentally friendly perspective, keep in mind that if the cardboard is coated or soiled (think greasy pizza box) it’s not recyclable.
What Can Be Done?
Keep reading those labels, but remember to read not only about the ingredients but also to look for phrases such as “eco friendly packaging” and “BPA free container.” These phrases are not as common as we’d like to see, simply because it’s time consuming and costly for companies to champion the cause of package safety.
A number of companies have led the charge to create safer packaging and increased consumer demand for safer packaging will undoubtedly cause more companies to follow suit. So take the time to call or email those companies that make your favorite products and let them know you’d like to see increased package safety for your pets!