Cat litter is big business and has a big environmental impact. Cat owners know that keeping their kitty or kitties inside cuts down on a number of problems ranging from minimizing the chance that their special Moggy could wind up under the wheels of a semi to reducing flea infestations and vet bills from interactions with feral cats. But keeping Kitty inside means creating a place for the household feline to take care of personal sanitary needs. An earth box makes a lot of sense for a cat since felines cover their feces in the wild. However, a cat litter box is a continual chore and a continual disposal headache.
Cat litter is big business. In fact, it is a nearly $2 Billion dollar market in the United States, alone. The most popular cat litter is made from clay. And therein lies the problem. Clay is strip mined. Even with modern regulations, strip mining clay litter has many of the same environmental impact issues as strip mining coal or any other substance. It disturbs the earth, creates a prime opportunity for erosion, and disrupts local wildlife and vegetation. That is the first environmental impact.
The second environmental impact comes when disposing of the used litter. Clay litter cannot be composted. It is already at its most basic state, so there is no breakdown involved. Instead, if disposed of locally in a continual heap, it will build a mound of clay. If placed in a landfill, it creates a lump of matter that cannot and will not biodegrade. In fact, it is the same substance that is used to seal the bottom of the landfill itself.
This does not mean that cat lovers need to give up their darlings, but it could mean changing their approach to managing and disposing of their pets’ waste. For cat owners who have a home with a garden or yard space, the best solution is composting. Information currently available suggests a variety of choices for this process, but three things need to be addressed: first, appropriate disposal of feces; second, dealing with the high ammonia content of used cat litter; and third, using an appropriate litter.
Cat feces has the potential to become a biological hazard in that it can contain parasites that can be shared with humans and because of histoplasmosis, a disease that when communicated to a pregnant human can cause birth defects or abortion. There are solutions to all of these difficulties, but they certainly should be part of any cat owner’s consideration when disposing of their darlings biological byproducts.
The first consideration should be keeping up with your kitty’s veterinary visits. Regular checkups, vaccines, and parasite prevention can greatly reduce cross-species infection concerns. With that said, it is still a good idea to wear gloves and possibly even a face mask when dealing with any kind of cat litter. The second, particularly if you live in the city or in an apartment, is to use an appropriate sized and slotted litter scoop to remove feces. Place it in a plastic bag, just as you would dog poo, and put it in your regular trash along with other non-recyclable items. When using a biodegradable litter, the remains can then be used directly on shrubs or other non-edible ornamentals that are not sensitive to the ammonia content. However, such use can attract feral cats to use the same area.
Choosing a compostable cat litter usually means paying a higher cost, and giving up some of the efficiency of the clay or crystalline litters. However, some sources suggest that the plant or paper based litters might be safer for your cat. If ingested, clay litter can cause intestine obstruction.
There are several types of compostable cat litter available on the market. Most of them are created from waste by-products from other processes. Sawdust is a major source. It can be compressed into pellets that can be used similarly to clay litters. Other organic pellet-type litters include litter made from ground corn cobs or wheat straw. The sawdust pellets are the most robust and have the greatest longevity. The ground corn cobs and wheat litters tend to dissolve more quickly. The advantage is that pet owners don’t have to spend as much time scooping out feces, especially if they have a living situation where composting is an option.
Used organic cat litter needs to be composted for at least 18 months, and the pile needs to reach at least 150 degrees Fahrenheit at some point in the composting process in order to kill off pathogens. A commercial black plastic compost container set in the sun can usually meet these conditions. For best processing, add leaf and lawn clippings to the mix. Once processed in this fashion, some authorities believe that it is even safe to use for growing vegetables. Such vegetables should be washed thoroughly in potable water before cooking.
Cat litter is big business, but it doesn’t have to have an adverse impact on the environment. A little thought and care given to the selection of litter and to the method of disposal can make a huge difference to the world.