Americans spent more than $29 billion on pet food in 2017, with 68 percent of all homes owning at least one pet. Whether your best animal friend is a dog, a cat or a less common pet, you likely have some food packaging that you’re looking to recycle.

Here’s a helpful guide on the recycling market for different pet food containers.


Photo: Adobe Stock

Wet dog and cat food usually comes in steel cans, and steel is the most commonly recycled material in the U.S. This is the same material used for soup and coffee cans, so if you can recycle those in your community, pet food cans will also be accepted.

Recent news has revealed that canned foods are lined with Bisphenol A, or BPA, which prevents the metal from corroding and preserves the food. BPA has been linked to health risks in human children, but it won’t impact the recyclability of the can, as the liner is burned off during recycling.


Photo: Adobe Stock

Many pet owners buy dry pet food in bags. Not only is it less expensive, but the sizes are bigger so you don’t need to purchase as frequently. This food used to be packaged in multi-wall bags, which were a more durable form of the paper bags you’d find at the grocery store.

The industry has shifted to use bags made of polypropylene, or #5 plastic, because it’s more durable than paper. Although the bags may look like paper, if you try to tear them, you’ll quickly realize they’re not.

While polypropylene is a commonly used plastic for everything from laundry baskets to yogurt containers to reusable bags, the recycling market for polypropylene bags is pretty limited. It’s unlikely they will be accepted in your curbside program, and grocery stores accepting plastic bags only want polyethylene bags (#2 and #4 resin).

A few manufacturers have partnered with TerraCycle on a mail-in solution, including Guardian Pet Food Company, Open Farm and Wellness.

Other Packaging

If you buy pet snacks and treats, they usually come in plastic pouches. These are primarily polyethylene but contain other materials, so they don’t belong in grocery store bag recycling bins. You’ll need to find a TerraCycle brigade to recycle these products, and there aren’t currently any pet food pouch programs.

Fish food usually comes in a plastic container. Even though it doesn’t look like a bottle or contain a neck, this product is recyclable with other #1 plastic bottles. You may need to remove the cap and either discard or recycle separately, depending on your local program.

By Trey Granger

Trey Granger is a former senior waste stream analyst for Earth911.