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March 11, 2008

Reader Letter: Greening Kitty Litter

Kitty_poop_rainbowsDear Brave New Leaf,

Up until very recently, I always got plastic bags when I shopped so that I could scoop kitty litter into them.  Now that I'm using reusable bags, I find myself turning to Glad kitchen trash bags for the cat box, and that's both wasteful and expensive. Most litter isn't safely flushable, and I've never found an acceptable (to me -- my cats will do their business on anything) environmentally friendly litter. So the question is, how do I dispose of the stuff and do the minimum of environmental damage?  Is there some wonder-litter out there that I just haven't found yet that will be low-tracking, safe, not vile-smelling, and easy to use?

I hope this will be of use to you and other readers.  It's certainly been bothering me.

I love you blog, and have gotten a lot of inspiration from it, including joining a CSA and switching to CFL bulbs.  Keep up the good work.

Best regards,

Jennifer T

Jen! May we call you Jen? Thanks so much for writing in! We are delighted that you have gotten some inspiration from Brave New Leaf, and applaud your environmental efforts to date. Let's hear it for Jen!

Now to your question: how to green that kitty litter. First of all, you may scoff at the suggestion, but did you know that cats can be taught to use the toilet? I know. I didn't believe it either until I saw it with my own eyes. It might be worth an initial effort to see if it takes and eliminate your kitty waste problem once and for all. Plus you'll have the coolest cats on your block.

Assuming that sounds incredibly ambitious, let's talk kitty litter. Basically, the green issues around litter break down into two categories: the litter content itself, and the disposal of the litter. Unfortunately, neither of these matters have a clear-cut green solution.

Choosing a green litter
The primary environmental complaint against traditional kitty litter is that the bentonite clay contained in it is strip mined. Also, this clay doesn't really break down, but just sits in a landfill, taking up space.

More natural alternatives of kitty litter can be bought made out of corn, wheat, or newspapers. Friend of Brave New Leaf, Allie, can walk you through how to make your own kitty litter out of old newspapers. Of course, these "natural" alternatives may have used nitrogen fertilizers or contributed to deforestation, so the environmental impact may be a wash.

Theoretically, the primary benefit of these natural alternatives is that you can flush the poop down the toilet, and then compost the remaining litter. I have my reservations about this disposal solution. Cat poop can contain a number of parasites that are hard to kill and toxic to other wildlife.

So what litter you choose is up to you and what best makes sense for your kitty and lifestyle. By far, the most recommended alterna-litter on the web is Swheat Scoop, which is made from wheat, and "certified" as a flushable litter.

The greenest way to dispose of kitty litter
As we've already discussed, one answer to the disposal problem is the flush/compost method. By the way, do not even think about attempting this if you have a septic tank. It will clog.

I like the fact that you used to use plastic bags from the store to toss your kitty litter. Have you looked around for other plastic bags you can reuse? What about the bag that your loaf of bread comes in? What about the plastic your tortillas are wrapped in? The bag your Sunday paper comes in? Can you tie your dry cleaning bags at each end? A little creative thinking, and you may be surprised what you can reuse.

Another possibility, and my ultimate recommendation for you, is to use a biodegradable bag or litter liner. I won't kid you: these bags still use petroleum to make them strong, but unlike plastic bags, their corn-based composition means they'll break down in a landfill and won't spend millennia floating around the ocean.

Biobag makes biodegradable cat liner bags (scroll down past the dog stuff).

One more tip
If you're ever struggling with how best to dispose of old prescription medicines, mixing it with kitty litter is the ticket! The litter will absorb any seeping medication and ensure it doesn't make it into our water supply. Coffee grounds can also work reasonably well.

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You can wrap your used kitty litter in old newspapers and forgo the plastic issue entirely.

I use the biodegradable bags when I'm out with the dog and they seem to work fine. I put them in the bin with the household waste and I'd assume it all breaks down at the landfill.

I recently switched to feline pine and I LOVE it. It costs about $4 rather than $12 for the same amount of typical clay litter (I didn't even notice the price change till after I fell in love with it). It smells like pine. And all you have to worry about is scooping the poop. I believe it's flushable (you're just sifting out poop, the pee basically turns the pine pellets into sawdust). I switched on a recommendation online and now I can't keep my mouth shut about it whenever I run into anyone with a cat.

Thanks for the link! If you have your cat tested for parasites and toxo and she tests clean, I think it's then considered safe to flush if you use a flushable litter.

I was watching TV one day when an infomercial or whatever you call the commercials that try to sell you something and they show you how it works then tell you to call a phone number... anyways, it was a litter box that washed the litter! It was kind of gross because it showed you the process of how the special cleaning fluid broke down any "waste products" into a iquid substance, then pushed them through a tube into a toilet which could then be flushd. Lovely isn't it? That's one option though since you're just reusing the same litter. Who knows what kind of chemicals are in that breakdown fluid though...

Oh, have I been dealing with this issue! Dealing with it on my blog, dealing with it to my friends, dealing with it so much that my husband begged me last week, "Can we please have one conversation that doesn't involve cat poop?"

Here is one VERY important thing: No one should ever flush cat litter if 1) the cats are allowed to go outside or 2) they have not tested negative for toxoplasma. Toxo is a parasite that wreaks havoc on the brains of sea otters when it is flushed into our waterways. Sewage treatment plants, for some reason, cannot kill it.

That said, my cats are indoor cats and have tested negative, so I flush their litter. Which litter do I use?

Well, I started out with Sweatscoop because I think it's the most environmentally-friendly. It's made from wheat, biodegradable and flushable AND it is the only one that comes in a paper rather than plastic bag! But you know what? It sucks. It doesn't work well. It sticks to the bottom of the litter box and the pee balls fall apart. I hate it.

We tried World's Best Cat Litter recently because we're having issues with one of the cats pooping outside the box and thought maybe the litter had something to do with it. World's Best comes in a plastic bag. Strike 1. World's Best is made from corn, and I'm sure you are aware of the problems of corn production. Strike 2. But you know what? It works soooooo much better than Sweatscoop. It clumps well. It doesn't stick. It smells better. It scoops easier. So what's a plastic-avoiding person to do?

Feline Pine, as far as I know, also comes in a plastic bag, so I have no reason to use that over the World's Best that I can see.

Just my 300 cents.


Although I can't add to the cat litter question since cat hair bothers me, I was amused by the fact cats can use the toliet!! It reminded me of the story of a person who could not figure out why his water bill was so high. He found out his cat was flushing the toliet repeatedly. It is so funny! I could not find the orginal one that I saw but this one is similar.


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