Independent and unpredictable though they may be, we adore our cats. But, as cat population continues to rise, we thought it was time to take a look at a by-product of our wonderful cats. Across the world, many of us are accustomed to use cat litter: after all, our little tigers have to do their business somewhere! But what is the environmental impact of cat litter for the environment? And what should we do about it?
Cat Litter – a climate killer
Let’s start with understanding the quantities of litter involved. Roughly speaking, an individual cat needs around 12 kilograms of litter each month. With 12 million cats in the UK, that means our feline friends need 2 million tonnes of the stuff nationally each year!
According to a Swiss consulting firm specialising in sustainability, the environmental impact of cat litter counts for a significant part of a cat’s total carbon pawprint. That’s if it’s not carefully disposed of in a waste incineration plant, since cat litter can’t be composted naturally. Unfortunately, though, a lot of cat litter ends up in our general waste. In Switzerland, about 6% of the average household rubbish bag is cat litter – quite a figure!
But the disposal of cat litter isn’t actually the main problem. The bigger issue comes from the production and distribution of this same litter – this is what accounts for most of the carbon emissions of the stuff.
So, what can I do if I want to reduce the environmental impact of cat litter?
To reduce the environmental impact of cat litter, first of all, you probably want to check if you can get your hands on any locally-produced cat litter. Finding a local producer will reduce the C02 associated with transportation of this heavy stuff across long distances.
You might also want to consider the material the litter is made of. There are great options for litter made from plant-based fibres, such as wood fibres. Plant-based litter often has a higher volume (it takes up more space with less weight) which means less material is needed to create a good-enough surface for your cat to go on…
What’s more, the C02 emissions of wood-based litter is much smaller in comparison to conventional litter. Researchers led by Niels Jungbluth calculated that litter from wood fibres generates 79g of C02 per litre, compared with conventional litter material generating 428g of C02 per litre. Over the course of a year, you could save 33 kilograms of C02 by making this swap and greatly reduce the environmental impact of cat litter you use.
And how do I dispose of my plant-based litter and cat poop properly?
In short, it seems like the jury is still out on this one.
Though it might be tempting to try composting your cat’s poop, or to flush it down the toilet, we don’t advise either!
Composting cat litter can have bad consequences. As one Swiss company specialising in recycling and the disposal of waste materials puts it, ‘faeces and urine from carnivores don’t belong in the green waste bin and thus not in composting bins either. Cat faeces pose an infection risk to those working with these materials, particularly from infection with toxoplasmosis or from fox or dog tapeworms.’
Having said that, one German-based initiative, Cats for the Future, which promotes environmentally-conscious cat care does encourage composting, but only when the cat litter is made from plant fibres.
As for putting it down the toilet, this can cause big issues for waterways, from build-up, blockages to excess sludge being produced.
Despite the mixed advice which is out there right now, what’s clear is that we can all make the switch to buying local cat litter, and choosing a material which is less carbon-intensive and more planet-friendly! In doing so, you’ll help reduce the environmental impact of cat litter and make a real, positive difference on the world.
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