In my newsletter this week, I wrote about how, cleaning out my rabbits, had inspired me to write a post about plastic-free alternatives to straws!
Waste Warrior Sally wrote to me and said “I have just been reading your newest email (always informative!) and noted that your have rabbits. I too have two rabbits and I was wondering how do you approach plastic free/zero waste with regard to looking after your rabbits?
For the most part we get rabbit pellets in the largest bag we can find to reduce plastic waste and I take the dirty bedding out in a box and tip it straight into the bin (no bin bags) as I no longer have access to a compost bin large enough to take so much bedding. I feel like there might be ways to improve waste levels with rabbits but I am kind of at a loss at the minute.
Any suggestions would be greatly appreciated :)”
Here are my ideas:
Like Sally, I buy rabbit pellets in the largest bag I can find – usually 15kg. This reduces the amount of plastic waste we use, and the bags are so sturdy and strong that they can be reused around the home and garden.
For instance, one bag is full of leaves which will be left for a couple of years to create leaf mould. Another bag has a few holes in it, has been filled with spent compost and has potatoes growing in it. They can also be saved up and used instead of buying bin bags when you have something that really does need to go in the bin.
In some places you can buy rabbit pellets loose from bulk buy bins in garden centres or pet stores. That’s one way to buy completely packaging free – just remember to take your own reusable bag! To be honest, you shouldn’t get through many pellets as you don’t feed that many to a rabbit – just a small amount per day as a supplement to hay.
Hay and straw
I can buy both hay and straw in paper bags at my local shop and pet supplier. If you can only find hay in plastic bags, try asking a local farmer or keep a look out when driving around country lanes. I’ve spotted a couple of random places where people sell rabbit hay from their driveway (they are people with large gardens) and will happily fill your own bag. We’ve decided not to bother with straw for bedding anymore, as our bunnies used to pull it out and throw it down the ramp in disgust. So they have just sawdust in their bedroom.
We use sawdust in our rabbit’s hutch and litter trays. Some people use old newspaper. We can buy sawdust in massive compacted bales from an animal supplier. Like the rabbit pellets, this leaves us with a large, useful and reusable bag. But as each bale of sawdust lasts us well over a year, it’s really not an issue. When I had my first rabbit, we used to go to a local sawmill where they would happily fill my own bags – for free! They had to pay to get rid of the sawdust and I was happy to take it off their hands. Win – win!
When it comes to greens, nature provides. Take a look around your garden and you’ll find all sorts of bunny favourites such as dandelions, docks, plantains, red clover and, of course, grass. You can also grow a herb garden, even if you’re limited on space – some of my boy’s favourites are parley, lemon balm, chives and fennel. I grow all of these in pots and they self seed around the cracks between the patio slabs, giving us all food for free. You can dry these herbs and ‘weeds’ too, for a winter supply sans plastic.
DRYING RED CLOVER – spot the repurposed plastic curtain rings!
Rabbit droppings contain a large amount of nitrogen and phosphorus, and, because they are herbivores, it’s perfectly safe to put this in the compost bin. Some local authorities allow used hay, straw and sawdust bedding from ‘vegetarian’ animals such as rabbits or guinea pigs to be put in garden waste collections, or accept it with garden waste at Household Waste Recycling Centres. If you don’t have room to compost at home and don’t have garden waste collections, someone with a local allotment might be only too pleased to take spent bedding off your hands, as compost heaps often become too wet from grass clippings, plant prunings and weeds, so the straw and sawdust makes a useful ingredient to get good quality compost.
Let’s face it, toys for rabbits, are actually for humans. And as any rabbit lover will know, bunnies are a bit like toddlers – they’d rather play with a cardboard box or toilet roll inner! The only ‘toys’ my bunnies have are twigs from the apple trees when I prune them. I cut them up and store them in the garage and give them a few short twigs a day- this helps keep their teeth in good shape. You can put things like a plant pot on its side for them to play in, a ball for them to nose around or an old sheet of wood for them to hide behind – you really don’t need any fancy plastic toys – don’t fall for the hype! (And if you bring them indoors where there’s a toy turtle on the floor, they’ll just take over anyway!)
Or if you’re writing something when they come in, they’ll sort your pens for you:
Again, don’t fall for the hype. If you actually read the ingredients in many so-called bunny treats, they’re nothing more than colourings, fillers and sweeteners. Rabbits predominately need to eat hay (at least their body size per day, but make sure they have an unlimited supply), plus a few pellets and access to fresh greens. For the occasional treat I give our boys the end of a banana (really don’t give this too often, it’s like giving a child a bag of Haribos), a fresh raspberry or dried apple pieces which I make myself in the autumn. They also get carrot tops
We have a couple of porcelain feeding bowls rather than plastic ones – which we’ve now repurposed for the cat. They are better in many ways because boy bunnies can be boisterous and they throw things down the stairs (like lightweight empty plastic dishes!) with porcelain bowls, they are too heavy for the rabbits to move. You can also clean them well by pouring boiling water into them.
Our bunnies are part outdoor, part indoor – depending on their mood. Rabbits need a good amount of room to run, jump and hop about. Our hutch was bought second hand from a local person and all the extensions have been added with materials we already had at home, or neighbours donated to us! We were donated old chicken wire, fence posts and a scaffolding plank from neighbours and we had a bit of roofing leftover from a project plus old fire guards from when my daughter was young, which have been repurposed into the doors and an attachable run.
If your garden is not rabbit proof, you need to contain them while they run outdoors. Our ‘run’ is simply a couple of old fireguards, wired together. They can easily be folded when not in use or moved for use in the house or attached to the main hutch
Perfect demonstration of needing lots of room to run around *sigh*
When indoors, they don’t need a special pet bed or anything. Here’s one bunny sitting in a seedling tray with a towel in the bottom. In the summer the seedling tray goes back into the greenhouse for its intended purpose:
The two boys are more, erm, energetic (!), so we just put a fireguard screen up and keep them away from wires and walls – which provide great explorations for chewing and excavating!
What about you? How are your rabbits contributing to a Zero Waste household?