Go Green With Your Kitty LitterPublished April 19, 2012
“Kitty litter” is often found at the top of the cat lover’s shopping list. Sound like something weird to be concerned with? Not for cat owners that deal with the litter box twice per day!
However, today’s cat lover is not just concerned with absorbency, smell and ease of cleanup. Kitty litter has not escaped the “green” movement; more and more people are looking to go green by choosing eco-friendly litter for their kitty—and with good cause.
According to the ASPCA, the average owner of one cat will spend $165 per year on kitty litter. That amounts to each cat ultimately dumping 260-280 pounds of cat litter into landfills each year, plus a few gallons of cleaner and numerous plastic litter plan liners. Multiply that by the 33% of the U.S. population who own a cat and you can start to see the huge paw print kitty litter leaves on the environment.
So when faced with row after row of “all things litter” at the pet supply superstore—what’s the environmentally-conscious cat lover to choose? Let’s explore the history and the subsequent good, better and best of kitty litter—the doo’s (pun intended) and don'ts—in regard to how kitty litter impacts the environment.
Kitty Litter History: Pay Dirt
Prior to World War II, most cats lived indoor/outdoor lives and their toileting areas were neighborhood backyards and gardens. For indoor needs, some families kept boxes of sand or ashes from the furnace for their cat’s use in the cellar. Housewives of the 1940s were none too enamored with cats tracking ashes or sand through their homes.
One day in 1947, an ex-sailor name Ed Lowe was approached by a neighbor who was tired of using ashes in her cat's box and dealing with sooty paw prints. She asked for some sand, and Ed suggested clay instead. Soon the neighbor would use nothing else, noting that the clay was much more absorbent than sand and didn't track all over the house. Ed had a hunch that other cat owners would love his new cat box filler and began selling the Kitty Litter Brand from the back of his 1943 Chevy Coupe. Cat owners all over America soon fell in love with this product's odor control and absorbency and in 1964, the kitty litter industry was born with Lowe’s Tidy Cat brand.
Kitty Litter: To Clump or Not to Clump
In the mid-1980s a particular type of clay—sodium bentonite —was introduced as clumping cat litter. Clay litter continues to be the dominant type of cat litter sold in the United States, largely based on its inexpensive price per pound, and more than 60 percent of clay litter is of the clumping variety. However clay-based litter, no matter if it is of the traditional or clumping variety, may be the most expensive in terms of its impact on the environment.
Clay, the main ingredient of traditional kitty litter, is obtained by a strip mining process, which destroys soil and vegetation, leaving the land virtually useless for future generations. The environmental impact of clay litter production, in addition to the mining itself, includes the transportation of the clay to the drying facility as well as the use of petroleum products to generate sufficient heat needed to dry the clay.
Of course, after it is used, kitty litter must be disposed of. Clay cat litter is sent to landfills where its sits for an eternity. The net result is that clay-based cat litter has a sizable environmental impact in both its manufacture and disposal. All in all, clay kitty litter is not helping go green, and doesn't seem to be very eco-friendly.
But do not despair. The shelves at local pet supply emporia also hold an array of kitty litters made from eco-friendly materials, including recycled newspaper, corn cobs, peanut shell meal, processed orange peel, wheat, beet-pulp, pine sawdust and shavings, and hardwood and cedar chips. All promise to be superior odor controllers, long lasting and earth-friendly.
Plant-based litter is probably the least environmentally offensive cat litter mainly because they are not mined, drilled or artificially produced. Products such as World’s Best Cat Litter is milled from renewable whole-kernel corn and it is 100% biodegradable. And because it disperses in water, it’s also septic-safe.
Swheat Scoop kitty litter is a safe clumping letter made from naturally processed wheat in which natural wheat enzymes work to neutralize litter box odor. Through the same process, natural wheat starches are exposed to form firm, solid chumps when they come in contact with moisture.
If you and your fur-bulous feline friend prefer that smell of the outdoors but don’t like the dust emissions of many wood-based litters, Feline Pine provides clumping and non-clumping litter options. Ranked number one for the least dust emissions by an independent research company, Feline Pine cat litter is made from kiln-dried shavings reclaimed from lumber production.
In terms of disposal, even plant-based litter has potential environmental impact, which is largely dependent on where you throw it out. Claims of biodegradable and compostable are premised on the user actually composting the used cat litter or using the spent cat litter as mulch in a garden. (Retailers should warn customers that if they use these litters as mulch they must remove the feces from the litter and dispose of the feces in the trash.)