Litter training is inevitable if you keep cats in the house, especially if you raise them from being a kitty up to adulthood. However, did you know that certain types of cat litter aren’t eco-friendly?
In the market today, many types of cat litter appear with various features and use. Some are scented to avoid the awful stench that comes with regular kitty litter. Others are made so that they are easier to clean for pet owners. However, do you know which ones are more suitable for your cat and the environment?
Let’s have a look at the question at hand: just how bad is cat litter for the environment? We’ll find out in this informative article.
Background on Traditional Cat Litter
Cat litter is usually in clay form and that’s why it is being frowned upon by environmentalists. To let you know why clay litter is not eco-friendly, let’s have a look at how it is made. If you’ve been using clay litter for your cat’s litter box, you might want to read on to find out about its composition and why it isn’t exactly great for the environment.
Clay liter for cats was invented by Edward Lowe in 1947. During the old days, kitty litter boxes were only made with sawdust, ash, dirt, and/or sand, which caused a lot of problems, such as asthma and allergies acting up. They are also a threat to maintaining healthy air quality at home.
Therefore, Lowe invented cat litter made from clay at the request of his neighbor named Kay Draper, who was tired of having to clean cat tracking due to the traditional litter used. Crushed clay was the choice because it was an oil spill controller for auto shops before, so he thought it would do a similar job for taking care of cat litter.
After his product was sold like pancakes, it went into many pet stores in the United States and all over the world. Today, clay litter for cats is commonly found at your local pet store, no matter where you live.
The Process of Creating Clay Litter
While the purpose of creating clay litter for cats is good, the problem lies in how it is made. Clay products all come from beneath the soil and are mined from the Earth’s surface. You can find clay near former rivers and streams. It takes years for clay to form because they come from organic sources since they are the remains of plants and animals.
Much like cutting down trees, mining for clay, especially bentonite clay, becomes a problem when it is mined in bulk, causing an act known as strip mining or surface mining. This kind of mining, while it has advantages for the safety of miners and easy access to the material in question, has the following concerns:
- It alters the landscape, causing potential soil erosion
- Potential damage to surrounding flora and fauna
- Leaves behind an ugly appearance on the landscape
- Possible air, soil, and water pollution
When companies need to mine and harvest clay, they need to get rid of the topsoil and whatever else is growing on top of it. In other words, they’re destroying ecosystems by cutting down trees, ruining forests, depleting natural minerals, displacing animals, and causing soil erosion.
Likewise, when strip mining or surface mining occurs, many sediments get into the rivers and streams, causing water pollution. This leads to many fish kills and harm to various other aquatic and/or marine creatures. Floods can also occur if these sediments settle into watersheds.
When it comes to machinery, noise pollution and air pollution are also two important concerns. Mining for clay creates dust that fills the air while the machinery causes excessive noise pollution.
Aside from the impact of mining clay on the environment and other natural resources, the process of baking clay is another story. When processing clay, it needs to be heated up to 2,000 degrees Fahrenheit to create kitty litter that easily absorbs. After baking, the clay gets cooled down and turned into smaller granules. The manufacturer then packages and ships the product to your local pet store.
So, what’s the catch? The usage of fuel is the problem here. Most of us are aware that industrial fuel depends on non-renewable sources, such as fossil fuels or petroleum. In a sense, producing clay litter, in terms of mining and baking, is generally not eco-friendly.
What happens to used clay litter?
Perhaps you guessed it – clay litter is non-biodegradable, which means it will end up in the landfill and take up unnecessary space.
Used kitty litter is often tied in a bag and then send to the garbage collector. Then, it is dumped into a landfill and unfortunately, it ends up staying there for a long time – maybe even forever. Even if you untied it from the plastic bag, it will still stay there because clay isn’t exactly a compostable material since the beginning of time.
Think of all those clay pots that we’ve seen in ruins and archeological sites. They are made from the same material and yet they survive thousands of years. Clay litter is going to end up like that but not in a pretty sight.
What about crystal cat litter?
Due to the disadvantages of clay litter for cats, pet experts and enthusiasts have started marketing and going for an alternative called crystal cat litters. While clay litter uses bentonite clay, crystal litter uses sodium silicate sand, which makes it a little different.
If you aren’t familiar with sodium silicate sand, you’ll find most of its materials from the “Do Not Eat” sachets found in certain packages of food and items of clothing. Sodium silicate is typically used as desiccants to keep the item from getting moisture, and therefore protecting it from mold and spoilage.
However, the process of creating crystal cat litter is roughly the same as the clay counterpart – it involves surface mining, so it’s not all that eco-friendly, either.
Which cat litter is eco-friendly?
If you’re looking for an eco-friendly cat litter that will still do the job well, there are many alternatives in the market today. One example is a sustainable and biodegradable type that uses plant-based ingredients. Here’s what you should look for in a cat litter to make it eco-friendly:
Fortunately, many modern cat litters today are plant-based types, which means that they will decompose when they get thrown out into the dumpsite. Or, if possible and with the right procedure, these cat litters can be turned into healthy compost for your garden.
A product that uses recycled and sustainable packaging will help the environment cut down on costs for production and gathering of raw materials. This, in turn, reduces fuel consumption and carbon emissions, thereby saving our ozone layer from completely depleting.
Unlike clay and crystal litter, plant-based cat litter usually has organic ingredients made from quality farms that use no pesticides to create produce. Therefore, your kitty is safe – and so are your plants, should you want to try composting the used cat litter.
Free from harsh chemicals
What’s neat about cat litter made from organic and eco-friendly materials and ingredients is that they are most likely free from toxins and harsh chemicals. This results in your cat getting less likelihood of diseases – the same is true if you have a garden and want to use it for composting.
As mentioned above clay and crystal litter aren’t compostable so they aren’t so eco-friendly in the long run. Plant-based cat litter, on the other hand, is safe for your garden and your pet. Most manufacturers ensure that the plant-based cat litter they create has food-grade ingredients to avoid toxicity to your pet and your plants.
Recycled raw materials
Some companies have also resorted to creating cat litter that’s not just eco-friendly in terms of using plant-based materials but also using little to no trees during the process. That’s because sustainable forestry, with the use of PEFC-certified recycled wood, is their raw material.
Kitty litter that is made from plant-based material is also dust-free with today’s technology. Gone are the days when we have to resort to dusty and crusty cat litter – when we go dust-free, we’re doing our part to keep the air clean, especially if we have people at home who suffer from allergies and asthma.
To wrap it up, your kitty cat litter is only bad for the environment if you don’t choose the right type. Clay litter, as well as silica or crystal litter, aren’t exactly eco-friendly due to the process that’s done to create them, such as surface mining and excessive fuel usage.
On the other hand, plant-based alternatives will do the job well for absorbing your cat’s business. Not only will they conserve natural resources – they also don’t end up in landfills forever so we’ll worry less about limited space in a dumpsite for future generations to use.
Name: Rebecca Tarvin
Discipline: Integrative biology
Degrees: B.A., Biology, Boston University, 2010; Ph.D., Biological Sciences, University of Texas at Austin,2017
Rebecca Tarvin is broadly interested in integrating studies of natural history with molecular genomics and phylogenetics. Specifically, she aims to elucidate causal genetic mechanisms underlying novel traits, characterize phenotypic diversification at macro and micro-evolutionary scales, and identify factors that promote and constrain biodiversity.
She also likes to write about eco-friendly lifestyle and other material alternatives that are eco-friendly, aside from other ways to save Mother Earth