In the United States alone, 25% of people own cats as pets. And with that many cats comes a lot of cat litter, most of which is terrible for the environment.
Of course, you might not think this at first. Many kitty litter companies go through great pains to use imagery that invokes a sense of naturalism. Pictures of cats playing in grassy plains, wheat fields, and so on are visible on shelves all the time. If you think that a product is “natural”, then you are more likely to buy it for your pet.
Unfortunately, this could not be further from the truth in most cases. Cat litter is usually engineered or mined, which can cause result in problematic health issues for both you and your cat.
We have to ask ourselves if this is really the best option for us. There are more sustainable options that I recommend exploring. Hopefully, you will consider some of them after learning more about the environmental impacts of cat litter.
What is Cat Litter Made Out Of?
Cat litter is commonly made from materials like bentonite clay, silica gel, and even minerals! Sometimes the litter will be made from a unique mix of these materials, other times the litter could be made of just one material or another. You can also expect to find cat litter made with natural ingredients like pine, wheat, and grass.
It depends on the brand.
Cat litter primarily exists as a natural, synthetic, or mixed concentration of these base materials. There are many kinds of cat litter out there, which is excellent for the highly diverse cat population.
Tons of cat owners will rely on bentonite clay and silica gel thanks to their high absorbency. This stuff is easy to clean up too – just scoop, pack, and toss. That’s how people have been doing it for decades. And with a bit of chemical magic, you can even cut down on the odors.
Baking soda is a popular choice for this, but some brands will even utilize charcoal filters.
Why Cat Litter is Pretty Bad for the Environment
Cat litter, in general, is made up of materials made to hold a lot of liquid and be easy to clean. Unfortunately, many of these materials are not good for the environment, especially not for disposal. The most common materials are bad for the environment because of how they are created – just making some of these materials can do more harm than good to nature.
But which materials are a problem and which ones get a pass? Without prior knowledge, it’s easy to think that they are all the same. Thankfully, a quick check for any cat litter ingredient list will tell you exactly what’s in there.
Let’s explore some of the choices you have when picking up a bag of your favorite cat litter.
Is Clay Cat Litter Bad for the Environment?
Yes, clay cat litter is bad for the environment. The problem with it is three-fold.
One, its production requires a lot of energy. The more energy that is required for production, the less is available for other uses. It increases the waste generated from the increased production.
Two, it’s created via strip mining, which is a form of mining that destroys any immediate biodiversity by scalping off the top portion of land. Strip mining can also severely erode the soil or reduce its fertility, making it far more difficult for future life to blossom.
Three, clay cat litter does not biodegrade. So wherever it’s being dumped, there it will stay for hundreds of years.
Is Silica Cat Litter Bad for the Environment?
Similar to clay cat litter, silica cat litter is also not the best for the environment. While this material can hold an impressive amount of female bodily fluids, it’s still pretty terrible on the planet due to its high energy cost and use of a non-renewable resource.
The manufacturing of silica cat litter takes up a lot of energy. It doesn’t help that part of it is made from silicon dioxide, which is found in sand. This may not seem like a big deal, but you need to understand that sand is a non-renewable resource.
I know, I was surprised too. With the vast amounts of desert that span the planet, it almost seems like sand is infinite. But it is NOT.
It takes a long time for the sand to be created, far too long for us even if we could hurry the process. The use of silica cat litter just isn’t sustainable.
Is Crystal Cat Litter Bad for the Environment?
Yes, crystal cat litter is also bad for the environment. The extraction requirements are energy intensive, plus it uses the same silicon dioxide (sand) found in other types of cat litter. Sand is a non-renewable resource, meaning that its continued use is unsustainable. Crystal cat litter is also not biodegradable and will sit in landfills forever once it’s thrown away.
Cat owners tend to like crystal cat litter because of its attractive color scheme, typically blue and white, and its ability to not get stuck in cats’ paws. You wouldn’t have to worry about exposing your cat to dust particles either.
Some brands are flushable (more on that later), which can make the disposal process even easier. And the best part is that the crystals will change color to let you know when they need to be replaced. No need to use the sniff test!
But as I said before, it’s not a good eco-friendly option due to how it’s made. The extraction process uses silicon dioxide (silica) in its quartz form, after which a series of manufacturing steps turns it into usable cat litter. But the result is a product that is non-biodegradable and consumes a precious non-renewable resource.
Is Flushable Cat Litter Bad for the Environment?
This is a bit of a tricky one, but ultimately flushable cat litter is bad for the environment. This is due to the health problems that it poses for animals and humans alike, which can quickly spiral out of control if not handled properly.
This may be a bit surprising to hear. And at first glance, it would seem like flushable cat litter should be perfectly fine for the environment. It’s usually made from natural materials like corn, wheat, or wood, stuff that should break down and biodegrade without issue.
But there is a bit more to consider.
First, I need to mention that cat feces may contain Toxoplasma gondii. This parasite can spread active spores and oocysts into waterways, which many treatment plants aren’t prepared to handle. The result is the spread of this parasite into aquatic environments and back into our own water. Sea otters, for example, have been affected by this parasite and suffered cardiac arrest.
As for humans, this parasite can cause symptoms similar to that of the flu. It can also cause abortions in pregnant women, which is why pregnant women should not change cat litter boxes. If they must, protection is highly recommended (gloves and face mask).
Furthermore, flushable cat litter may not even be all that flushable. Even if companies give the okay to flush their products down our toilets, that does not mean that our pipes can handle it. There’s still a good chance that flushable cat litter will clog the pipes, which can lead to costly repairs.
Biodegradable/Compostable Cat Litter – The Quick Fix
Biodegradable and/or compostable cat litter are the easiest solutions to making your cat litter more eco-friendly. And if you have compost of your own, even better! Cat feces made from natural ingredients (i.e. no clay or sand) can be composed and used to enhance any compost. Just make sure to keep it far away from any food.
As for biodegradable cat litter, it’s pretty easy to use. You literally just use it like you would normal cat litter. Just make sure that the litter is actually biodegradable and only uses natural ingredients. Stay away from mixtures that use some natural ingredients while adding silica or clay.
Once you are done, make sure to dispose of it properly. Scoop it out, dump it into a biodegradable bag, and toss it in the garbage. Do not throw it outside or on the ground – I promise that this will only cause problems for you down the road.
Other Great Eco-Friendly Alternatives
There are many amazing options for cat owners! Here are a few more materials that work well for eco-friendly cat litter:
- Hardwood and cedar
It’s important to note that your cat may not like the first eco-friendly option that you choose, especially if you are going from clay or silica cat litter to something totally new. If you are cat just absolutely refuses to use one type of material, don’t be afraid to switch to another.
As for my recommendation, starting out with pine (such as pine pellets) or walnut seems to work for many cat owners. After that, I would try paper/newspaper, then bamboo, and then coconut.
Remember, it’s absolutely worth supporting the planet that we live on. It doesn’t cost much to make the switch, so I ask that you give it a shot. In the end, I’m sure that your cat will love you for it too.