Eco-Saturday: Kitty litter

Ladies and gentlemen, the man who hates cats.

This may not sound important, but kitty litter can have a pretty hefty impact on the environment.

Clay-based litter is made from sodium bentonite, which is strip-mined from the ground, taken to a factory, dried (a process that requires heat, frequently generated by burning fossil fuels) and processed into granules. It doesn’t break down, so it basically just sits around the landfill forever, taking up space.

It’s not particularly great for your cat’s paws, either, as it can get stuck between toes and harden, and I can’t imagine it’s good for your dog’s digestive system if he happens to ingest some. Not that I know any dogs who sneak into the bathroom and raid the litterbox every chance they get, of course.

In my experience, clay-based litter isn’t really great for my interior air quality, either; of all the types we’ve tried over the years, it was the worst at absorbing smells.

Silica gel-based litter is lightweight, works fairly well and doesn’t need to be changed as often as other litter, but because it doesn’t weigh much, it’s often imported, meaning more energy is expended on transportation. It’s a better choice than clay-based litter, but it’s far from perfect, and I’m not convinced it’s great for cat feet or dog bellies, either.

Several environmentally friendly litters exist, including varieties made from corncobs, recycled paper and other materials, but the best we’ve tried thus far is an all-natural variety made by Tidy Cats. I’m not crazy about the fragrance they add to it, but it works very well, clumps nicely and is made from sawdust and corncobs (both byproducts that likely would be thrown out otherwise), so it’s basically recycled and theoretically biodegradable.

Speaking of recycling, our cat, Walter, is of the opinion that every object on the planet should be recycled into a cat toy:

Milk-carton rings are FUN.
I didn’t have the heart to tell him he doesn’t really fit in that box.
You can’t tell him anything anyway. He just swivels his ears and looks annoyed, the way our late rat terrier, Scout, used to do.

One more important point about kitty litter: Never flush it, even if the package says you can. Most cities don’t treat their sewage for Toxoplasma gondii, a protozoan commonly found in cat feces, so the parasite travels through waterways and ends up in marine ecosystems, where it kills sea otters.

Gratuitous kitten picture.