Kitty litter and the environment

December 2nd, 2006
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I was quite shocked to discover that what we give our cats to do their business in (cat litter) wreaks a massive toll on the environment.

I don’t own a cat, but I do use kitty litter for other purposes – under the barbecue and soaking up some messes. I was looking at my bag of cat litter today and thinking “so, what’s in this stuff”?

The most common cat litter in use today is made from a natural clay, also known as “diatomaceous earth”, or sodium bentonite. It’s formed into pellets and then dried. The pellets absorb several times their dry weight in moisture.

I originally thought that whatever the substance was that made up kitty litter, it was most likely the by-product of some other process. Unfortunately, this type of clay is targeted by mining companies for this specific purpose; using a process called strip mining.

Strip mining is as the name implies. Heavy equipment strips off the top layer of earth to get to the seam of clay, which is often quite thin. Strip mining is an incredibly destructive process that has wiped out thousands upon thousands of acres of land and removed millions of tons of earth; just so that cats can take a dump or I can use it to sop up barbecue runoff. I’ve been reading stories of native lands being acquired and leaseholders kicked off land so that these mining companies can get to it. Rather disgusting isn’t it?

There’s not only that, but the dust from cat litter is made up of tiny silicon particles. The “bentonite” aspect of the clay is made up of aluminium phyllosilicate (crystalline silica). These silicon particles are a known carcinogen.

From what I’ve seen, to determine if a particular brand of kitty litter contains sodium bentonite, check the bag for mention of “natural clay” or if there are no details, then it most likely does.

So what are the alternatives?

For my barbecue, I guess I could use sand, and use it sparingly – only removing sections that became impregnated with oil. That would keep the usage down to about a kilo a year. If you own a cat, there’s various more earth friendly products available on the marketing including:

– Silica gel pearls (made from sand, no dust)
– Recycled newspaper that’s been compressed into pellets
– Ground corn cobs
– Extruded straw pellets
– Pine sawdust from lumber waste
– Kenaf plant pellets (a fast growing hibiscus)
– Other products made from cellulose fiber

Used cat litter can also be used in your garden as a mulch or fertilizer – although the idea of it laying on the surface may not appeal :). In that case, just dig a shallow hole and then cover it over.

Know of any other good earth friendly cat litter materials? Please add your comments below.

Michael Bloch
Green Living
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