Greening your cat

Happy New Year! I hope you are not too overwhelmed by the excesses of the holiday season….lots of room now for (eco)-resolutions. We are going veggie at home for January, to kick things off. I’ll let you know how that goes.

But on to more serious matters.

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If you have read Jonathan Franzen’s Freedom, you will be aware of the carnage wreaked by domestic cats on the American songbird population. One solution is to keep your cat indoors. I am afraid mine roams free most of the time, but when it is cold, cold, cold (as it is now) we keep him in at night. This raises the thorny problem of cat litter.

There is no perfect solution here.

Clay-based litters still dominate the north american market. Indeed, about 85% of all the clay mined in the US is used for cat litter. A majority of clay-based litter is now of the clumping type: this means that it is made from, or contains, a substance named sodium bentonite.

The advantage of this type of litter is that it sticks together and reduces the amount of material that needs to be discarded. The disadvantage is that sodium bentonite is mined in a scraping operation, close to the surface, resulting in significant landscape destruction. There are also concerns about cats ingesting litter or litter dust and clumping taking place in their digestive tracts.

A better solution is a plant-based litter. I use The World’s Best Cat Litter(with a name like that, need I say more?).

cat litter

This is made from whole-kernel maize. It clumps (just like the clay litter), is dust-free and easy to manage and is available in most pet stores. (It costs between $8-13 for a 7lb bag and $24-$30 for a 17lb bag….the higher prices are to be found in Canada, of course).

I have used the regular `flavour’ for a while and been very satisfied with it. I was sent a sample bag of the scented, odour-control formula, which contains natural lavender oil. The scent is pleasant enough, not over-whelming….but odours are not a big problem for me with one largely outdoor-living cat, so I cannot judge whether this extra twist is worth it (or would annoy me if my litter tray were not in the furnace room).

The bag claims that the litter is flushable and I do, indeed, flush small amounts of mine with no problems. But I am not sure I would flush on a regular basis as I appreciate the cost of a blocked toilet.

If you live in California, you will know that flushing is prohibited, because of problems with sea-otter deaths (strange, but true). A parasite in cat feces, toxoplasma gondii, appears to be responsible for killing sea otters (it is not eliminated in the wastewater treatment process). The parasite can also end up in storm drains after al fresco cat poop is washed away.

If you don’t flush, what do you do with your waste? In most place, including sunny Ottawa, pet feces is banned from the city’s green bin/compost collection. So that leaves the regular garbage. That is fine, except it challenges the claim of biodegradability. The dirty secret of many items that are sold as biodegradable is that they only decompose adequately in the presence of oxygen….and there is not much of that in land-fill. In an anaerobic environment, things break down only very slowly and not enough to meet the scientific requirements of biodegradability.

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So, there you have it. Plant-based litters win, from an eco perspective. But they are not perfect. Maize monoculture does nothing for our landscapes and carting heavy cat litter around the continent for our cats to poop on is not exactly green. But ….pets are good for us in many other ways and we all love them, so, for now, let’s all learn to love corn too.

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2 comments

  1. Fiona says:

    I was using a corn based litter for awhile, but went back to clumping clay because I couldn't find a reasonably priced supply nearby, and can't get over the irony of paying as much for litter as food…and a product made from farm waste need to cost that much and be shipped from the States? It doesn't make sense. I really wonder why similar products arent' made from local farm biowaste at a much cheaper price.

    Maybe we should go back to the old days of using sand.

  2. Jessica Sarrazin says:

    I’m going to try composting my cat’s litter this summer. For regular composting, I made a self-aerating compost bin from a large plastic garbage can. If you dril 1.5 inch holes in it all over with a hole-saw and then hold the lid closed with bungee-cords, you can lay the can down on its side and kick it around your yard to mix up the organic matter. It sure beats turning over compost with a pitchfork! I’m going to try this system with the cat litter this summer. It means I’ll be switching to sawdust or other organic matter for the litter box.

    Hoping to stop using clay and putting it in the land fill!

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