All throughout September, we’re raising awareness of the effects our pets’ waste has on the environment. When discussing the environmental factors of cat litter, it really comes down to traditional litter materials of clay and silica versus biodegradable plant-based materials.
Clay-based cat litter is most popular due to its low cost, absorbency and ease of disposal. Unfortunately, that clay-based litter is the worst-case scenario when it comes environmental impact. The clay used for the litter is obtained through strip mining, an extremely deleterious process that destroys ecosystems and pollutes neighboring water sources. In a 2015 report by the U.S. Geological Survey, it is estimated that pet waste absorbents made up 29% of the 25.5 million tons of clay sold that year. That’s about 7.3 million tons of clay mined in one year. Once that clay runs its course in your litter box, the only real disposal option is to chuck it in the trash, which is then transported to a landfill where the inorganic matter will become the bedrock for future piles of non-biodegradable matter that will continue to accumulate.
Silica gel-based litter is the next popular alternative to clay litter. Unlike clay litter, the silica gel crystals do not generate the potentially harmful dust that clay litter produces. The absorbency of silica gel crystals is also higher than that of clay, which reduces the rate at which it used and subsequently discarded into landfills. Despite this, silica gel litter still ends up sitting in a landfill, and the sand mining process, while not as disastrous as strip mining, still causes considerable damage to the environment.
Finally, we come to the group of biodegradable types of cat litter. These types of cat litter are plant-based, so they should decompose naturally. Biodegradable litter can be made from grasses, walnut shells, pine, corn, wheat and paper. Many of the biodegradable options available have low dust levels and contain scent decently. One thing to consider when looking into biodegradable brands is the source of the material. Whether the product is the remnant by-products of another industry or produced specifically for cat litter is another factor to think about. Some of our customers prefer to buy cat litter that isn’t made from potential food sources for humans. Price is another big factor when it comes to biodegradable litter, as most biodegradable litter is considerably more expensive than clay or silica litter.
A word about flushing cat feces: Despite the marketability of flushable litter, it is important to note that flushing cat feces can have a negative impact on the environment. Cat feces are known to carry parasites that can transmit toxoplasmosis, a potentially fatal disease that affects bird and mammals, including humans. This disease is why pregnant women are advised not to handle cat litter. Flushing cat waste carrying toxoplasmosis parasites introduces the disease to marine life and is correlated to the decline of otter populations. The most environmentally conscious way to dispose of pet waste is to compost it.