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Is There A Sustainable Solution To Cat Litter?

Raisin Keeping Clean

 

It’s the bane of my sustainable existence.  I’ve written about this before and the problem hasn’t gone away!  Back when we lived in the country, the most environmentally sound way to deal with cat waste is to let our cat go outside to do her duty.  But that proved unsafe for her, so we kept her inside.

 

My next solution was to bring the outside in – I collected a large container of dirt from our yard, and Raisin used that as a litter box.  But it was impossible to clean between changings (so I had to change it every couple of days), it smelled strongly of dirt in the bathroom, and she kicked it all over the place because she didn’t like it.

 

Then we tried Yesterday’s News, which is made from recycled newsprint.  We hated it and our cat hated it.  They’re huge pellets that are ok for pee because they sort of absorb it, but the poop just sorta sticks to the pellets and – well, it was icky for cat and human.  She kicked it around everywhere, and it had to be changed every couple of days because it had zero deodorizing qualities and boy it stunk quickly.  Not only bad for humans, but cats hate that.  Changing the litter so frequently was costly and wasteful, but the worst part was:  that’s when she started using our house plants as an alternative.

 

Out of desperation at that point, I went to the internet and read everything there was to read (which is very, very little by the way – few people seem to talk about sustainability and cats – it’s sort of a hidden problem).  Then Matt and I went to the pet store and stared at all the packages.  There are wheat and corn products.  Matt felt that there was something unethical about growing food for cats to pee in while people starve.  And I had a problem with it because industrial farming has many prices – GMOs, pesticides, replacing ecosystems with monocultures, to name a few – so it felt like everything that was wrong with our food system was encapsulated in that one bag of cat litter.

 

So on that day, we decided to go with what seemed like the lesser of evils: natural clay, without any of the fragrances, crystals, and whatever else they put in almost all cat litter.  And we really had to search for one that had nothing in it!  After we bought it, I came home and read about clay mining.  It’s not good at all.  But all that research did for me was to make me feel more guilty every time I buy it, and to make us more determined to stretch it out as long as possible.  We had looked at all the alternatives, and none of them was good.  This one still seemed to be the least harmful in our minds.

 

And then a few months ago, I found a partial answer.  One Earth Cat Litter is made from corn husks and pine shavings, the by-products of the agriculture and forestry industries.  Here’s what the company says:

 

One Earth products are created with a commitment to preserving nature’s delicate balance. Only premium natural ingredients are used in order to ensure the optimum wellness of your pet. Absolutely no toxins, post-use pollutants or artificial flavors are used. Up to 3% of the retail sales of One Earth pet products goes towards World Wildlife Fund to help support conservation work throughout the world protecting wildlife and their habitats – including fisheries, forests, wetlands, and open lands. “  It’s made by 8-in-1, the makers of Nature’s Miracle, if any of you have used that.

 

So, it’s from a good company, using industrial byproducts.  Our cat really likes it, we like the smell (fresh pine smell from the shavings).  What’s wrong with it?  It’s not easy to find, and it’s expensive.  Our solution to that is to order it online (which has it’s own problems, I know), order several packages at a time, and then mix it half and half with the clay.

 

That’s it, unfortunately.  There is no perfect solution that I have found.  This is as close as I can get.  I just encountered a great article here that came to the same conclusion.

 

Ways To Stretch Your Cat Litter


There are three ways I know about to stretch your cat litter so that it lasts as long as possible:

 

  1. Use the least amount of litter that your cat will allow (no need to fill it to the top of the box – experiment to see how little you can get away with before your cat gets mad, while still making sure you have enough that if you scoop out the clumps for two weeks, you won’t end up with zero cat litter in the box)
  2. Make sure you scoop the litter carefully every day (get every one of those little clumps out, and be careful not to break them up)
  3. When the litter starts to get smelly, sprinkle baking soda over it and mix it in

 

Will you please share your experiences? Has anyone found better alternatives?  Or good tricks? I’m sure all the cat owners here would love to know! 

 

Last week I received an email from Theresa, asking what solution we’ve found to kitty waste.  Thanks, Theresa, for asking the question!

 

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36 comments to Is There A Sustainable Solution To Cat Litter?

  • We use pine pellets a litter pan lasts about 2 weeks, scooping every 2nd day (kids’ job). The poop goes down the toilet. The pine saw dust remaining after 2 weeks goes in the compost. And we start fresh again.

    Our litter doesn’t really get too smelly, only when we feed him dry food. We’ve found that the better the quality of his food the less-nasty his waste is, shouldn’t be surprising.

  • Yep, this one is difficult. I’m using Feline Pine, the pellet version, right now. Best I’ve come up with. I’ve tried their new clumping litter too. The clumping litter did not work at all. It’s too light and Hazel is a big cat. She kept tipping the litter box over. Yuck. How heavy of a litter is One Earth? Do you think I’d have the same problem?

    The problem I have (and Hazel too I suppose) with the pellet version of Feline Pine is that Hazel won’t bury her poo until the litter breaks down some. On the other hand she gets her litter scooped right away when I’m home. :) It also needs to be changed pretty frequently. I suspect that might differ from cat to cat. So it’s expensive too.

    Because I don’t have a good place to compost the saw dust as it breaks down, it goes in the garbage. I’ve been able to get my personal garbage down to a very small amount. Makes me shake my head that most of the garbage is created by the dogs and cats….

  • I tried the wheat one with my kittens, but I saw one eating some when it was freshly put in the box – so that ended that experiment. It says on the bag that some pets might try to eat it. It is food, after all.
    I’m back to the clay but it is a nuisance and gets tracked all over the area. I haven’t tried the pine.

  • I tried the one that said it was made from corn cobs and then Arm and Hammer made from corn. Both of them smelled badly quickly even if I sprinkled baking soda over the litter box. I am back to mixing half clay and half corn litter. This seems to keep the smell down.

    I wanted to get rid of the clay due to the potential carcinogenic properties of the clay litter. So far… not rid of it. It sounds like the pine might work but I wonder if I am working on killing trees if I use it.

    So many decisions

    Billie

  • Our cats actually are outdoor hunters – they greatly disdain any attempt on our part to provide a litter box for them. The indignity of it all! (You can just see them thinking that whenever we’ve tried!) Fortunately, we live on 1/2 an acre, the plots around us are similarly sized, and it’s quite the little paradise for them here.

    A good friend was explaining her difficulty – just like yours – in finding a litter that everyone was happy with. They ended up using pellet stove fuel – and everyone is thrilled. And, apparently, it’s quite affordable.

    Haven’t tried it ourselves, but this family with several cats was quite pleased.

  • My cat is indoor / outdoor. Her favorite place to use outdoors is the fire pit. It’s sand surrounded by bricks with the fire pit inside. She uses the sand. I realize this may not be a great thing for indoors, but it works great outdoors. (urine easily absorbed by the soil underneath, poop easily scooped.)

    When I go out of town and she is locked indoors, we use the pine pellets. Once the pellets all become dust, any remaining poop is scooped out, and the rest gets thrown into the compost heap. I’m lucky that there are several pet stores in my area, and they carry good brands of pine litter in bulk sizes.

    (and more lucky that the cat strongly prefers to go outdoors!)

  • Rob

    This is the bain of many! Sammy uses Feline Pine. Never thought about composting it, as since cats are Meat eaters, and many bio diseases can be spread by composting cat poop. I did for a while have a seperate Compostor for kittyand rabbit litter but that got to be more work than it was worth (used the compost for ornamental plants only). So now I scoop the poop and put the remaining litter in the compost bin for the garbage men to pick up. I use the plastic bag from feline pine for the poop.

  • Our cats use pine pellets. The litterpans get cleaned every few days, or the cats will track sawdust through the entire house. Keeps the smell down nicely and the pans just get tipped into the green waste bins.

    Jandra (the Netherlands)

  • Pam

    This is a subject that I have done quite a bit of research on. I used to use The World’s Best Cat Litter, which is corn. Although I did not like the idea of using corn that might be food grade (I have never been able to find info on the WBCL website to determine the grade of corn), it worked great as a litter. After finding out that one of my cats is allergic to corn (and green beans, green peas, potatoes, carrots, and peanuts), I switched to Swheat Scoop, which is made from natural wheat that is not food grade. It does not clump as well as WBCL, so I add a small amount of scoopable/clumping pine to it. The pine helps with the clumping and lends a bit of a pine smell that it not overpowering. I feel that clay is too toxic (for pets and people) and not environmentally friendly. While the wheat and pine are expensive, they last a long time. I rarely have to dump the entire box. The urine never has a chance to settle to the bottom of the box like it did with clay. Some have commented that the wheat forms a cement-like clump on the bottom of the box. I have never had that happen. Corn and wheat are recommended for use with kittens as neither is toxic if eaten or licked during grooming. Many companies have a frequent buyer program, so check the websites.

    • Jan

      We tried a bunch of litters after Squeaky came down with asthma. We loved Swheat Scoop — I think it is the best litter on the market, at least the best of all we tried. However the downside is the cost. It’s $30 for a 40 lb bag.

      I recently switched to buying chicken feed. Not chicken scratch, because it doesn’t absorb, but chicken feed. It costs $12 for a 50 lb bag (about 1/3 of what I was paying!), and seems, so far (2 weeks) to be very similar to using Swheat Scoop.

  • Pam

    I have a friend that likes The Cat Genie. http://www.catgenie.com/ He never has to buy litter again.

  • Tree

    You can indeed train a cat to use a toilet (although I don’t think they can be trained to flush. Its a process.
    Start with elevating the litter box until its the height of the toilet, then put it on the toilet. Then get a pan that fits inside the toilet with the seat down, and fill it with litter, then remove the pan and voila. Not sure if you can train an older cat, but I plan to train the kittens, if we get them. We may have to go the Morkie route because of the allergies that I refuse to medicate.

  • i haven’t tried any litter alternatives yet – i’ve been moving around with my (very old) cat, and sometimes she’s been able to go outside. despite being an indoor cat for her first 17 years, she adjusted well this past spring – i just filled her litter box with leaf litter for a couple of days until she got the idea.

    it would be cool – as a landowner/for landowners – to see if any types of pine can be coppiced and used for litter products, and done more sustainably. or finding out if any grain-type winter cover crops could be harvested for making cat litter.

    i wonder how it would be to do broken up leaves/leaf litter indoors (it was outdoors before). right now i have the litter box inside an upside down rubbermaid with a door cut out, so she couldn’t kick it out and make a mess. it’d probably stink, and wouldn’t be absorbent…

    haha, what if you put soil in the cat box and tried to grow something hardy that smelled nice, that the cat would like scratching around in? bring the out of doors inside. some plant that really sucks up nitrogen. hm.

  • Jena

    I see someone else mentioned the Cat Genie. I would love your take on that. I e-mailed Fake Plastic Fish about it but she never acknowledged it. I guess it is nice that the litter is permanent but does the use of water and, I’m assuming, electricity outweigh the benefit? I’m not sure what to think!

  • Hi,

    We have a 20 lb Maine Coon and after trying everything else we tried Feline Pine, which was recommended by our vet. But it’s expensive. We were back to Yesterday’s News because we couldn’t buy Feline Pine locally.

    At the builder’s mart we noticed a pallet stacked with bags of stove pellets. The 40 lb sack was $4.88 Canadian $ last time we bought one, which was a couple of weeks ago. We’re in British Columbia and there’s a pellet mill nearby, where they mix sawdust and water (no binders or additives) and extrude the pulp into pellets.

    A bag lasts our big guy for about five-to-six weeks. We put five large cottage cheese containers in his box when we change it. We clean the “nuggets” out daily, and change the litter every fourth or fifth day. The used “sawdust” goes into the compost bin, a perfect foil for all the greens going into the bin.

    I did a blog post on this back in August here;
    http://suresimple.blogspot.com/2009/08/environmentally-friendly-cat-litter.html

  • Isn’t Jonny Cat made of clay? Here’s a consumer information site I found regarding the content:

    http://whatsinproducts.com/information.php?brandNo=03-027-077

  • If you have a hydroponics store in your area, there is an expanded clay growing medium called “hydroton”. It absorbs moisture and smells well. We use it as filler in our Tidy Cat Breeze and it is economical for a HUGE bag.

    Also, if you thought about going the pine route, there is Feline Pine (thanks, Rob!). Alternately, you could call one of your local saw mills, who would be happy to have you haul away shavings for free.

  • Lynn

    We’ve tried many things also in trying to reduce/reuse/recycle and are usually down to less than a garbage bag of trash a week for 5 of us. The cat box thing was a challenge- our cat is diabetic so we go through a lot of litter.

    We finally settled on wood shavings that we buy in a big bale from a Rural King agriculture store. It is used for livestock bedding- we also use it for chicks and ducklings. It is cheap and does OK for us.
    We live on 1/2 acrea with a row of burning bushes at the back property line. I dump it under there when it’s time to change the litter box and it breaks down into the soil. I don’t have it by any of the vegetable gardens.

  • Kasi S.

    I use Feline Pine. I like the lack of odor and the flushability, but it does mean a lot of mess when the cats kick sawdust everywhere.
    It is important not to compost cat waste with the regular compost – it should not come in contact with your food plants at all, even when composted.
    Additionally, I’ve recently been told that you shouldn’t flush cat feces because the microorganisms can hurt otters just as they can hurt humans.

  • We switched to the litter robot, which uses dramatically less litter. Of course, you’ve also got to have it plugged in at all times, so there is a trade off. One of our cats is also terrified of it, so he’s started just using the bathtub drain. … We’ll probably just toilet train him now.

  • bob

    Use a clumping litter and scoop every morning and everynight. We have one large cat and a box of litter last at least a month. You just have to keep up with it, which you should be doing anyway out of consideration for the cat, not just the environment. Mix in some fresh litter when it starts to get a bit low. The clumping stuff is key here. It keeps the rest of the litter clean and fresh enough that you don’t have to change it every few days… if you stay on top of scooping.

    A cat is a big consumer of food (meat) and the simple fact is a house cat is a luxury. You are going to have to be ready to deal with that. The best solution would be to not have a cat. Since we have cats, we have to consume things. Simple as that. Just keep the litter clean and it should stretch just fine.

  • Thanks for the post. I never really think about this aspect of keeping cats. Have you ever thought about the environmental effects of what you feed them, either? Come to any conclusions there? I’m not entirely happy with the food my cats eat, but I don’t really know what else to feed them than standard industrial cat food.

  • Thank you all for sharing your experiences! Fascinating to read. Jena, I looked into the Cat Genie but decided against it because of the reasons you mention: the water, the electricity, and the plastic. I think everything I’ve come across has pros and cons, though!

    Red Icculus, Lynn and Deb C-G, I’m intrigued by your unique solutions – I will look into them!

    Tree, our cat is afraid of the toilet. : ( But I have read quite a bit about toilet training – and it seems like a great alternative.

    Stephanie, we use Organix cat food (and dog food, too). I wrote about it here.

  • Thanks for the link, Melinda. I thought you’d written something about that before but I don’t think I read it through at the time. Too busy! I doubt I’ll convince my family to feed my cats partly-organic cat food but once the cats live with me and I have an income we’ll see what I can do.

  • This is what I was searching lately ! Thank You. We sell Hill’s Science Plan amongs other pet food.

  • Joan Lotterer

    My mother is in a private home care situation. (91).
    I take her out once a week. I have found Feline Pine works real well. She scoops the poop daily and I change the sawdust each week . No smell hardly.
    The fireplace pellets are the same thing, a little larger. Work great if you can find it.Sooooooooo much cheaper!!!!!!!!!!!

    • Stella

      what brand of fire pellets do you use? i saw a show in tv where the woman recommended a brand, big bag, $5 or so, but i can’t remember what it was and i’m not finding anything similar online.

  • Switch to Equine Pine, available at the Tractor Supply. It runs about $6.50-$8.00 for a 35-40 lb. bag and is identical to Feline Pine, except the pellets are about 1/8 of an inch bigger. I don’t care if my cats don’t bury their poo, it’s easier to scoop! And, once it is completely saw dust, it never smells of ammonia. So, save money and get the equine fresh. Just ask for pine pellets.

  • Jody

    I LOVE One Earth but I don’t know where to get it since Drs. Foster & Smith do not offer it anymore. Why is this so difficult??? It seems that this product is the only one that doesn’t have any odors or fillers….and my cats love it. I usually order a dozen bags at a time which seems to last at least 6-7 months w/two cats using it. Does anybody know of a reputable website where I can order this product? Thanks in advance! Jody

  • Fitz's Mom

    I think I may be onto something. I recently bought the Tidy Cats Breeze System and that jump-started my journey to make less waste from the kittays. So, it works with a concrete-like pellet (suggested replacement time of every month) that does not absorb the pee which goes through a grate and onto a pad which you replace every 3-7 days depending on usage. I did some research and found you are able to wash the pellets and reuse them. They are not biodegradable so, therefore, washable and I even found a post where someone is doing this successfully. Great, no more buying pellets except to replace the few that might stick to the poop every so often. Onto the replaceable pads which have an expanding gel and absorbs the pee to be thrown out in one unit and then you just scoop the poop and throw it out. I have bought some cloth diapers and am in the process of trying to use those in the drawer instead of the pad. If it works, I will simply wash the diapers every couple of days and replace with a fresh one and so on until (hopefully years later) I replace the diapers which are organic and biodegradable to begin with. Wish me luck! Hope it works. I am so excited at the very possibility of saving all that waste and money on kitty litter every month!

    • Fitz's Mom

      Update:
      I LOVE IT! I started looking for a sustainable solution when my oldest developed FLUTD and I was going through 30lbs of clay litter a week. This was taking a tremendous toll on my back and my wallet. So, voila!
      I have been using this system for 6 months now and I only have to buy the pellets every three months or so to replace the ones that get stuck to the poop. I use biodegradable dog poop bags since I am just scooping the poop and since it is not recommended that you compost the waste, I throw it in the garbage. However, two poops in a little bag is much less than the pounds of litter I was discarding before. I ditched the diapers and just empty the drawers into the toilet and rinse them and replace. There isn’t anymore clay litter on my bathroom floor. If a pellet gets stuck in their feet, it falls right out and I toss it back in the box. That is the closest to sustainable I have been able to get and my cats are happy and clean.

      • KleanerKat

        Fitz’s Mom,

        I am checking out your solution…this seems promising…how do you clean the pellets? How long are you able to make the pellets last without having to change them?

        • Fitz's Mom

          I rinse the pellets in water until it runs clear and then drain them and cover them with hydrogen peroxide to get the pee smell out. I then rinse them well again and hang them out to dry in a mesh bag (about 2 days). I have yet to see any pellet deterioration so I think you can wash them forever. I try to wash them about once a month but have gone longer without complaint from the kitties. I also started composting the poop separately (found a great source online) so no more bags in the landfill.

          This really kick started me into sustainable living. So far I have switched to a DE Razor and use a brush and shave soap, I switched to menstrual cups and homemade washable pantyliners, I make my own bread and peanut butter and started composting. I will also be setting up rain barrels in the spring. My garbage output is so small now. I burn the paper for heat (wood stove), compost food scraps and recycle all the containers I can. Now I’m working on reducing the amount of packaging I buy and trying to buy more things locally.

  • Angel

    Hello. Thank you for your blog on how to be sustainable with cats and their waste….unfortunately I do not have much of a choice in cat litter and will most likely have to order online like yourself. From what website do you order your cat litter? The other question I have is that both my cats are indoor/outdoor cats. We want to build a raised garden, but how do I know my cats will not do their business among the veggies? There are days when they spend the whole day outside aside from eating and I know they must be pooping somewhere, but I haven’t found any around my yard…but I might have missed it. Do you have any ideas how to ensure they do not use the plants and such?

    Thank you,
    Angel

  • Lisa Tenter

    Our animal shelter has just switched to using wood pellets. These pellets are marketed for use in wood burning stoves. Because of this, the price is much less than feline pine. We cannot believe how much better the air quality is in our cat rooms! No more dust from the clay litters! Pleasant smell, the cats do not mind it. Price is comparable to clay litter, but we stock up on sale days!

  • You could try putting a cat/pet door inside your home so your cat could simply go outside :).

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