The Ultimutt Guide to Zero Waste Dog Leashes

by Mel Lee-Smith, freelance writer and managing editor with Wag!

Published: 02/01/2021

Whether you're replacing a damaged leash or you're buying a new one for your puppy, sniffing out a sustainable dog leash can be difficult. From manufacturing and materials to shipping and durability, there are a lot of factors to consider. Here's everything you need to know about the carbon pawprint of your fur-baby's favorite accessory.

Common materials used to make dog leashes

Nylon

When it comes to materials used to make leashes, nylon is perhaps the worst offender. Manufacturing nylon requires a lot of water and emits a greenhouse gas called nitrous oxide. This pollutant is over 300 times more potent than carbon dioxide. As if things couldn't get worse, nylon microfibers that shed from clothes and accessories also pollute water sources.

If that's true, why do pet accessory companies continue to use nylon? Even though it's not exactly sustainable, nylon does have a few benefits. It's durable and tends to hold up well to big breeds that like pull on their leash.

Fortunately, sustainable alternatives to nylon are just as durable and less harmful for the planet. But we'll get to those later in this article. For now, let's explore real leather and faux leather.

Real leather

Real leather vs. faux leather is a hot topic among zero-wasters who are also vegan or cruelty-free. We won't attempt to answer the age-old debate, "Is real leather more sustainable than vegan leather?" There are so many factors to consider that we could write a separate article on the topic and not even come close to reaching a conclusion.

What we will do, though, is provide an unbiased, evidence-based overview of the environmental impact of real and vegan leather. From there, you can make the right decision for your lifestyle and dog's needs.

First things first: Real leather is often a by-product of meat processing. That means most leather comes from cows raised for their beef and milk. The meat and dairy industries are responsible for nearly 15% of all greenhouse gas emissions. So the carbon footprint of a real leather leash is automatically pretty high.

On the other paw, reducing waste is also one of the cornerstones of an eco-conscious lifestyle. The mentality is, if an animal has already been slaughtered for their meat, it's best to use every possible part of that animal to reduce waste. Part of that involves using the skin for leather.

This presents a conundrum for pet parents. Fortunately, sustainable vegan leather products are becoming more popular thanks to the zero-waste movement.

Vegan leather

Adopting a vegan lifestyle benefits the planet in myriad ways, from reducing greenhouse gas emissions to improving heart health. Vegan pet parents will, naturally, opt for vegan leather pet products. But hold the leash — some types of vegan leather can also damage the planet.

Many vegan leather products are made from polyurethane (PU), a synthetic material. PU plastics aren't biodegradable and are made from fossil fuels. Another synthetic commonly used to make dog leashes is polyvinyl chloride (PVC), dubbed "the most environmentally damaging plastic" by Greenpeace. The manufacturing process releases harmful chemicals into the environment, polluting the air and contributing to disease.

Not only are these materials not biodegradable, but they're also not as strong as leather (usually). Vegan leather is typically thinner and less durable than real leather, making it more susceptible to damage. That means if you're the proud pet parent of a puller, you might find yourself needing a replacement leash sooner than you thought.

The good news is, you'll find plenty of vegan leather pet accessories made from sustainable, plant-based materials. Although cork leather is most common, a quick internet search for plant-based vegan leather products will return all manner of impressive innovations. From shoes made of eucalyptus bark to bags made from pineapple leaves, manufacturers everywhere are ditching plastic for all kinds of cool materials.

For more information on the real vs. faux leather debate, check out this article on Encyclopedia Britannica.

Eco-friendly and sustainable dog leash materials

In the market for a new leash? Try out some of these materials.

Hemp

The "ultimutt" sustainable fiber, hemp isn't just carbon-neutral — it's carbon-negative! Cultivating hemp removes carbon dioxide from the environment and purifies the air. Hemp is a great alternative to unsustainable fibers like nylon and polyester. Not only is it super durable, but it's even washable — perfect for those rainy-day walks!

Bamboo

Like hemp, bamboo also removes carbon dioxide from the atmosphere and requires less water and land to grow. It's also durable and long-lasting, making it an excellent material for zero-waste dog leashes.

Upcycled mountain climbing rope

Some of the best zero-waste dog leashes come from unique and recycled materials. While researching for this article, we found an array of leashes upcycled from mountain climbing rope. Talk about a new "leash" on life!

Tips for choosing the right zero-waste dog leash

Now that you know what kind of materials to look for, here are a few things to consider before snapping up that new leash.

Use what you have before buying new.

If you already have a "pawfectly" good leash, there's no need to toss it for an eco-friendlier option. Zero-wasters believe in using every item until the end of its lifespan — and trying to extend that lifespan where possible. Which handily leads us to our next tip.

Repair your leash if you're able.

If your dog's leash is a little frayed or lightly damaged, you may be able to repair it yourself. If you know your way around a needle and thread, look up sewing tutorials online. If you're unable to sew, call up your local seamster and ask if they can repair a leash. Might seem like an unusual request, but it doesn't hurt to try! (And it's also a great way to support the local economy.)

Consider your lifestyle and needs.

Before heading out to the pet store, take some time to consider your ethical concerns and budget. If you're a vegan, cruelty-free, and zero-waste pet parent on a budget, you'll need a leash that aligns with your values and needs. That means something that's plant-based and carbon-neutral but also affordable.

Factor in your fur-baby's behavior and walking habits.

If your pup likes to pull or chew on their leash, you'll need something durable. On the other paw, if your pup is a well-mannered walking companion, you can probably get away with something less sturdy.

Expect to pay a pretty penny.

High-quality, sustainable leashes usually don't come cheap. Despite the higher upfront costs, a good sustainable leash can last throughout your dog's lifetime, eliminating replacement costs down the line.

Shop local.

Ordering online is easier than ever. But if you're going zero-waste, you'll need to factor in the shipping journey. How far will your item have to travel before it arrives at your home? And roughly how much fuel will that journey require? You probably won't have the exact answers to those questions, but they're important to consider all the same.

Go second-hand.

If you live in an area that lacks eco-friendly shops, poke around your local second-hand stores. Even better, check online marketplaces and social media groups. You'll find all sorts of "freecycle" groups with zero-wasters near you giving away items they can't use or don't need, but don't want to throw away.

Ask a friend.

Are you one of those lucky pet parents who knows other puppy lovers in your community? You might just hit the jackpot and find someone who's giving away their dog's old leash. No need to be ashamed or embarrassed about a hand-me-down! Your dog certainly won't care if their "new" leash was pre-loved.

Avoid retractable leashes.

Most dog trainers advise against using retractable leashes, which can hinder your pup's leash training progress. Retractable leashes often contain nylon cords and other plastic elements that can be difficult to repair or replace if broken.

Other ways you can reduce your carbon pawprint

Activism plays a key part in any zero-waste or low-waste lifestyle. Once you've got your dog's sustainable leash, take action and continue to educate yourself and others in your circle. Here are a few ways to do that.

Educate other pet parents in your community about climate change and the zero-waste movement.

Global change starts small. You don't need a huge social media following to make a difference. Your family and your community are your biggest and most important areas of impact. Start by talking about climate change with just one family member, fellow pet parent, or resident of your neighborhood. Seemingly insignificant interactions like these can have a ripple effect.

Ask your local pet store to stock sustainable pet accessories.

On your next trip to the pet store, do some digging to discover whether the shop stocks sustainable accessories. Don't be afraid to ask questions! Shopkeepers want to keep their customers happy, and if you let them know your concerns, they're sure to look into sustainable suppliers.

Petition or write to pet accessory companies.

The best way to discover the environmental impact of your favorite accessories is to go straight to the source. Don't be afraid to write an email, send a Tweet, or mail a good old-fashioned letter to the companies you've purchased from in the past. Put the pressure on them with these sample questions:

  • Do you currently manufacture sustainable pet products? If not, why?
  • Are any of your products recyclable, biodegradable, or compostable? If not, why?
  • What policies or practices have you implemented to reduce your environmental impact?

Zero-waste dog leashes: wrapping up

Going zero-waste or even reducing your waste by a small amount is challenging, but rewarding. Along the way, you'll undoubtedly experience frustration and uncertainty. But don't give up the fight — take things one step at a time. You and Gizmo are doing a "grrreat" job!

Hoping to convince other pet parents in your life to make a change? Consider sharing this article with them! And don't forget to check out our guide to living zero-waste with a dog for a primer on the eco- and pet-friendly lifestyle.

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