Although I am a huge animal lover, I do my best to reduce my pets’ waste as well. However, before I get into this I want to emphasize that you should never risk the health of your pet to reduce their waste. Your pet’s well being always comes before the picture-perfect zero waste lifestyle. That being said, I wanted to provide insight into how I reduce my hamster’s waste.
Although this is uncommon, there’s a chance your local pet shop offers hamster mix in bulk. At my local store, they offer rabbit, guinea pig, and rat food in bulk. If you have this, it’s probably the best option for zero-waste food!
This is one of those things you need to do lots of research on. Developing your own food mix takes a lot of time and work. I am going to include my recipe, but please keep in mind that you can’t just remove ingredients/replace them. It’s important to ensure your hamster’s diet is nutritionally balanced.
Excluding the mealworms and the hay, I can get all of these ingredients in bulk. It’s possible to raise mealworms yourself so that you can avoid the waste, however, I don’t have space or time to farm them right now. It’s preferable to buy them in solid containers rather than plastic pouches since the bottles are recyclable while the pouches are not.
How to feed
I recommend feeding this mix alongside high-quality commercial lab blocks to ensure proper vitamins and minerals are consumed, as it’s difficult to calculate the vitamins present in each meal. I use these lab blocks, and they are what I calculated the nutritional analysis with.
I also recommend supplementing with fresh fruits and vegetables, just make sure they’re safe for your hamster first. I often use scraps from my cooking! For growing hamsters, add extra mealworms for more protein.
For most people, commercial foods are the best option. And as I mentioned, even with a bulk mix used to reduce the waste you must feed lab blocks and (for my blend) mealworms. So at that point, it’s about making sure the food bag does as much as it can in its lifetime.
I’ve mentioned these kinds of crafts in my zero waste cats article, but there are several things you can make out of pet food bags. I personally use my bags for trash once they’re empty. Hamster food bags are pretty small, so generally, I use it for a few days of cat litter scooping rather than for putting in a trash can.
Treats and Chews
Rather than purchasing treats and chews wrapped in plastic, I prefer to make my own treats and chews.
There are numerous recipes for hamster treats, many of which involving ingredients easy to find in bulk. I’ve put together a playlist of some great hamster treat recipes for your reference!
There are also lots of great ways to make chews out of things like toilet paper rolls! My hamsters love them, and it’s great for their teeth. Here’s another playlist of ideas for you!
Often the best treats are fruit or veggie scraps from cooking. Additionally, many hamsters love nuts like unsalted peanuts. However, they are high in fat and should only be fed once or twice per week. As an additional bonus, they also work great for wearing down teeth!
As I mentioned, nuts are both a great treat and great chew that can be found in bulk. You can also offer untreated wood (which can be sometimes found unpackaged for birds or fish, if not rodents). Dog biscuits can be found in bulk at treat bars in many stores and can be offered once a month depending on the type. They can be great for hamster teeth, especially if targeted towards dogs’ oral health. Finally, the medical need for chews can be reduced (not eliminated) simply by feeding a high-quality diet with lots of seeds and such that your hamster has to chew.
I personally use a mix of the following methods. I occasionally shred paper or make the DIY bedding for my hamster’s nesting areas if I have paper and time, although I mostly rely on commercial bedding.
There are some methods of making paper bedding using paper. It’s time-consuming and can be more expensive if you’re buying paper for it, but using only recycled papers can be helpful. Be careful about what inks are used on the paper, though! Here’s a link to a great method created by Luci over at Hamster Hideout.
Shredded paper is another option for recycled hamster bedding, however, it’s worth noting that it’s not absorbent which means it needs to be cleaned once or twice a day. Aside from cutting paper yourself, there are manual paper shredders available to reduce the use of electricity.
Aside from paper bedding, wood chips are a popular bedding option. If you or someone you know does any wood carving, you could definitely use some of the shavings as bedding. Be careful that there aren’t any sharp pieces and that you only use aspen.
Although those are great options, the reality is that you likely will need store-bought bedding for your hamsters. Ideally, you’ll be able to find non-plastic wrapped options. However, this is unlikely. It does appear that this bulk aspen bedding may not be in plastic, however, I haven’t purchased it and it may be. I haven’t been successful in finding a no-plastic bedding solution.
Therefore, the best option is to reduce our bedding needs and reuse the bags.
Try to reduce the bedding your hamster goes through to save both money and the waste. This is mostly related to your cleaning rituals.
The first step to reducing your bedding waste is spot cleaning. Hamsters, being pretty neat, usually pee in one or two corners. By cleaning that corner of soiled bedding or using a litter pan and picking poop out of the whole cage, you can make the bedding last longer between cleans as it won’t smell as bad.
Next, when you do need to deep clean the cage, take out only the top third of the bedding. Replace with clean bedding, and mix it with the old bedding. Because hamsters mostly spend time on top of the bedding and you’ve been spot cleaning, the deeper bedding should be clean for the most part. As an added bonus, this makes the cleaning less stressful for the hamster.
Now, I only have to completely empty and scrub my cages if a hamster gets ill (I clean the cage once they’re well again) or if one passes (to prepare for the next). This greatly reduces my bedding use!
Once you finally empty a bag of hamster bedding, you can reuse it in the same way as the food bags. I use these for trash, but because these bags are thinner at the top it may not work for your trash cans. You could use them for picking up trash on walks to help clean up some litter!
Because the bedding types I mentioned are made of paper and wood, they are totally compostable so long as your hamster is healthy. You should not compost the bedding of a sick hamster or a hamster who has died of unknown causes to prevent transmitting any potential illnesses via the soil.
Luckily, wheels are one thing that’s super easy to find unpackaged. The main point I’d like to make is that you should invest in a quality wheel. I personally buy silent spinner wheels. They are plastic, which means I can reuse them through multiple hamsters. Rather than using plastic support, they use a metal screw which makes them much more durable (except for the 10″ wheel). I currently have one comfort wheel (a much cheaper type of wheel) for my Syrian hamster. Even after just three months, there is visual wear on the wheel supports. You can tell it’s wearing down at the support steadily and definitely won’t last.
My first silent spinner has been functioning just fine for several years and has seen many tiny paws. Based on what I’ve seen so far, the cheaper wheel would never last that long. Quality wheels are pricey but in my opinion worth the investment.
I personally prefer glass water bottles. I haven’t had one break yet, but if something were to happen to the nozzle you could try replacing it (depending on the company). Even if you aren’t able to replace the nozzle, the bottle will be recyclable, unlike the plastic variety. In general, I also believe glass bottles will last longer as hamsters can’t chew on them.
Hideouts + Other Accessories
Say no to plastic hideouts! I keep three plastic hideouts for travel (as it’s unsafe to use heavy hideouts in the car). However, all of my in-cage hideouts are wooden. Theoretically, they are compostable depending on the type, though if they are very solid it may take a long time. I don’t compost them in my setup, but use them as grave markers which won’t harm any other animals. Many tunnels made of twigs and such are easily composted!
Hamsters are easily one of the most zero-waste friendly pets with almost everything they use being either compostable or reusable. Hopefully, as there is more demand for it, healthy bulk foods and waste-free bedding bags will become available. In the meantime, we can do our best to provide our hamsters a fulfilling, healthy, low-waste life.
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