Sunday, January 30, 2011

Green Alternatives: Owning a Cat (or two)

Green Alternatives is a series that shows you the green alternatives to normally wasteful/toxic products. I use all of the featured products in my own home. I am not being paid to endorse any of the products in this series, I just really like them! In my opinion, a green alternative falls into at least 2 of these categories:
     1. They contain no toxic chemicals/fragrances/etc
2. They are reusable and/or eliminate/reduce the amount of waste normally produced with their counterpart
     3. They contain less or no plastic
     4. They are produced by ethical companies who care about my health and the environment

I am having so much fun going around my house and (re)discovering all of the environmentally friendly choices we make. So today's post will not apply to everyone, as not everyone has a cat (or two). But a lot of people do own them, and don't really take into consideration how much waste those little furry creatures can create! This post will focus only on cats, but if you have a dog, a rabbit, or some other random pet (rocks excluded, sorry), then please leave a comment with some tips and tricks on how you keep them green! 

Ok, so I have 2 male cats who like to eat. A lot. And use their litter box. A lot. They currently use a plastic (boo) litter box, but it is slowly but surely being worn out, and I will soon need to find a new one. I have not really done a lot of research into alternative litter boxes. That is a whole different post, to come in the future, when I am forced into purchasing a new box. I have, however, "greened" their litter and my way of disposing of it. 

When I first got my cats about 3 years ago, I bought clay litter and disposed of the clumps in little plastic bags. Well those days are long gone. About a year into buying the clay litter I realized that whenever one of the boys went to use the facilities they would sneeze and cough and squint their eyes. I also realized that whenever I went to clean out the box, I would start coughing and my asthma would be bothered, quite badly. Every time we disturbed the litter, a huge cloud of dust would puff up and bother any living creature within a few meters. I also made a huge mistake once and accidentally bought the scented variety of clay litter. Oh my, what a noxious concoction that produced. Clay dust mixed in with the most foul synthetic fragrance that permeated my entire house.  I had had enough. I needed an alternative. I did some research (of course), and found out that the dust I had been inhaling for a year can coat my (and the cats') lungs, creating respiratory problems. It also gets into their eyes and irritates them, and if swallowed can cause intestinal obstructions. Most clay litters also contain quartz silica, which is a known carcinogen to humans. Well that was enough to send me to my local pet store and buy anything that wasn't clay. Well, I work at a vet clinic, and for years we have used litter made out of compressed pine shavings or compressed recycled newspaper. Very cool. But it doesn't clump, and that was an issue for me. The way I look at it, because the litter doesn't clump, you end up throwing away a lot more litter than you do for the clumping alternative. I clean my litter box daily, and I did not want to be having to empty the whole box on a daily basis. I needed something green, dust free, and clumping. Well, I found a litter made from corn that clumped and was dust free. I used that for about a year, and it worked great. But by then I was doing more research and learning about genetically modified foods, and how corn was not such a great alternative. I did not want to be supporting evil Monsanto by purchasing corn litter. And so the search continued. Well, I found something that is great, and I have now been using it for about a year. It is called Swheat Scoop. It is made entirely of wheat, contains no chemicals or clay, and is odor free. Plus, it clumps even better than the corn litter. Love. And my cats are no longer sneezing, and I am not holding my breath while cleaning out the box in hopes of avoiding an asthma attack!

No, I did not put him there, he was most intrigued as to why his stuff had been moved
 out of his corner, and felt the need to investigate. 

Ok, now on to how I dispose of this wonderful litter. Well the bag it comes in is completely recyclable, which is great, but what do I do with the clumps? I can't just throw them directly into our garbage bin, as they glue themselves to the side and bottoms of it (which I found out the hard way...ugh). But there was no way I was going to put my completely biodegradable AND compostable litter into plastic bags to sit in a landfill for thousands of years. We also do not have a compost. So I decided to try paper bags. They are biodegradable and compostable as well, so I figured that although they will be going to a landfill, at least they are going to break down. Incidentally, my local Save On sells 100% recycled paper bags. Even better. So what I do now is keep a package of paper bags next to the litter box. I fill one up with the day's clumps and then put it in a little mini garbage bin I have in the area (no plastic bag lining the bin). When it is full, or smelly, I simply take it out to our big garbage bin and chuck it all in. I also keep any paper bags I happen to get, say from buying mushrooms, and put them in the area so that I can reuse them. So now my boys can produce as much waste as they like, and I know that I am not polluting the environment with toxic litter and never ending plastic bags. It helps me sleep at night. Really. 

Do you have any tips on environmentally friendly pet ownership? I would love to hear from you!



  1. Great post! I hate the dust that comes from our litter and new it was a chemical issue but had not done any research. Thanks so much for the link. Our local grocery store stocks the swheat scoop. And I am going to pick up some brown paper lunch sacks to use instead of the plastic grocery bags I have been using. :)

  2. I too use eco friendly cat litter. Chemical free is the way to be! I sound so corny...anyway, great idea about the paper bags. I've been using plastic grocery bags (I don't have enough cloth grocery sacks for all my groceries) but I think recycled paper bags would be much better. Thanks for the tip!

  3. Just wanted to say thanks again for this post. I noticed after cleaning the litter box one day that I was wheezing. I realized that it was happening everytime I cleaned the box. I went out that night and bought the swheat scoop. It has been great. No wheezing and it is much nicer than other litter.

  4. Thanks JoAnn, I am so glad that it has worked out for you!