Kitty litter can be composed of many different materials, but regardless of its makeup, be cautious when attempting to compost or dispose.
What is cat litter made of?When kitty litter was first sold commercially in the 1940s, it was made with bits of granulated clay that was typically used as an industrial absorbent. Bentonite clay was later discovered to be the best type of clay because it formed clumps when wetted, making cat urine and feces easy to remove from the litter box. Silica kitty litters (also known as crystal kitty litter) produce similar results. The problem with bentonite clay is that it is often strip mined — a process that is damaging to the environment. In addition, the clay can make animals sick if eaten in large quantities. Eventually, more eco-friendly litter options began showing up on the market. Today, you can find kitty litter made of all kinds of materials: paper, wood, corn, wheat, even orange peels and peanut shells. These options are made from much more sustainable sources.
How to recycle used cat litterIf you use kitty litter made of natural materials such as wood or food byproducts, you can compost it, but this option is not for everyone. Cats have lived with humans for a long time and, as a result, they can pass diseases on to us. The most concerning is a parasite called Toxoplasma gondii, which can cause birth defects in humans (that is the reason why pregnant women should never handle cat feces). If you decide you want to try composting kitty litter, handle it and the resulting compost with gloves. Use it only on a flower garden — never a vegetable, herb or fruit garden — and make sure kids do not dig in or around it. Another way to lower the carbon footprint of your kitty litter is to look for brands that come in recyclable packaging. Yesterday’s News, which makes kitty litter from recycled newspaper, comes in bags that can be recycled in some communities. You can also use old kitty litter bags to hold trash, including your unwanted kitty litter, which prevents you from having to buy as many plastic trash bags.
How to recycle new or unused cat litterIf you have a bag of unopened kitty litter, see if you local humane society wants it. Many organizations have kitty litter on their “wish lists.” Here are a few ideas for using different types of kitty litter around the home (as long as your cat has never pawed around in it):
- Clay: Keep it on hand for any motor oil leaks from your vehicle, lawnmower and other equipment
- Wood or paper: Spread it around plants to help the soil retain water
- Wheat or corn: Put it in your compost bin
How to make your own cat litterYou might feel a little better about kitty litter if you can make it yourself from recycled materials you already have around the house. Here are a few suggestions:
- Shredded newspaper or office paper makes a decent kitty litter. It will not clump like clay litters, which can make disposing of waste more challenging, but it will make your cat comfortable. Check out this 1800Recycling article that describes how to make kitty litter from old paper.
- You can also use sawdust or sand as kitty litter. These options were popular before commercial kitty litter became available.