Kitty litter can be composed of many different materials, but regardless of its makeup, be cautious when attempting to compost or dispose.

kitty-litter-recycling.jpg You love your cat, and you want to keep him or her inside and away from the dangers posed by the great outdoors. That means a cat box and lots of kitty litter — the latter of which is probably going straight into your trashcan. This poses the question: Is it possible to recycle kitty litter? It depends on the type. Kitty litters made from biodegradable materials can be composted, which is the only real way to recycle the material, but that is not the right solution for everyone. Cat waste can pose a real threat to human health, especially pregnant women. The other way to “green” your cat’s litter is to reconsider what type you use. The traditional clay-based kitty litter is not made with sustainable materials, so you may be better off switching to something else.

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 litter

If 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 litter

If 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 litter

You 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.

A word about flushing kitty litter

If your goal is to keep trash out of the landfill, it makes sense that you would flush cat feces with kitty litter still attached down the toilet. One would assume that city or septic systems have ways of dealing with this type of waste, right? Wrong. Earlier we mentioned Toxoplasma gondii, a parasite carried by some cats that can cause birth defects in humans. There is some evidence the parasite is killing sea otters as well. Even the best municipal wastewater systems are not equipped to remove it, which means it ends up in waterways. Sadly, for this reason, we recommend bagging all cat feces and cat litter and putting it in your trashcan.