We often forget that the zero-waste lifestyle also extends to our animal companions. We also can practice environmental consciousness when buying pet products, i.e., cat litter. As a cat owner, there are eco-friendly litters you can buy for your cat. The production and disposal of sustainable litter don't harm the environment and its biodiversity.
This article discusses how to choose the best eco-friendly cat litter and the problem with traditional clay litter. It also explores seven types of eco-friendly cat litter and the nine best eco-friendly litter brands.
Cat litter is an absorbent material that absorbs the liquid and odor from cat excretion. It makes it easy to clean cat waste. Various materials are used to make cat litter, both organic and inorganic. An eco-friendly cat litter is a natural cat litter made from biodegradable and compostable materials.
The materials used to produce eco-friendly cat litter are starch, changed starch, and plant fiber. The plant fiber usually comes from rice straws, coffee grounds, walnut, wheat, coconut husk, and cassava pulp waste.
There are several different types of cat litter. Some are organic, synthetic, and a combination of both. Crystal cat litter is an example of synthetic litter, while clay and other plant-based litter are organic.
Clay-based litter is the popular cat litter most people use. Manufacturers produce traditional clay litter from bentonite clay and use silica dust to make crystal litter.
Most people prefer clumping clay litter because it is affordable and easy to clean. However, the production process of clay cat litter makes it dangerous to the environment. Manufacturers must mine bentonite clay from beneath the earth’s surface to produce clay litter. These mining activities harm the environment, particularly the aquatic ecosystem.
The extraction of bentonite clay erodes and causes environmental degradation. Miners can dispose of the waste from mining improperly, leading to land, air, noise, and water pollution. Long-term mining can also cause landslides, soil erosion, floods, and biodiversity loss. Earth's soil and rock pores, and rock foldings hold significant groundwater.
An underlying layer of rock and rock fractures also holds water, known as an aquifer. Mining reduces the groundwater beneath the earth, leading to low recharge levels of the aquifer. When the aquifer is slow to recharge, it affects the water levels of rivers, ponds, wells, streams, and lakes. Sometimes, the groundwater becomes a puddle of waterborne diseases.
Also, the mining process can deposit minerals or metals into the groundwater. Contaminated and low groundwater levels affect agricultural productivity. Mining bentonite clay to make clay litter also affects freshwater ecosystems. De-solved clay changes the color of the water sources near the mining area3. It leads to the scarcity of pure water.
The contamination of water sources affects animals and humans. Ingesting the contaminated water could cause waterborne diseases in animals and humans. The toxic metals leached into the soil travel and damage the root systems of plants. It also makes it difficult for plants to grow in the mined area.
Apart from the damage caused by the extraction of bentonite clay, its disposal also causes environmental pollution. Most of the kitty litter waste we throw out ends up in the landfill. However, cat waste takes up space in landfill because clay litters aren’t biodegradable.
Another kitty litter that has a negative impact is crystal litter. They make crystal cat litter with silica dust. Silica dust or gel is not a renewable material. Similar to clay, manufacturers must mine the earth to extract silica. It pollutes the air during this process, affecting human and biodiversity health. Bacteria from mining leaches into groundwater sources, leading to water pollution.
It also affects plants by interfering with their photosynthesis and respiratory process. Living organisms consuming water with silica residue or inhaling silica dust can cause a series of health problems5. For instance, long-term exposure can lead to chronic bronchitis, lung cancer, and several autoimmune diseases. Like bentonite clay, silica is not biodegradable. It will always cause constant pollution in the environment.
Since crystal and clay-based litter only cause more harm than good, switching to natural cat litter is best. There's an abundance of cat litter produced with plant materials. The following section explores seven types of eco-friendly litter.
There are various types of cat litter produced with sustainable natural materials. They are:
As you can already tell from its name, manufacturers make wood cat litter from wood waste sourced from various tree types and wood waste. However, only woods with high absorption capabilities are suitable for eco-friendly cat litter.
Most brands use softwood because it has a high absorbability rate and natural antibacterial qualities. It is also easy to turn softwood into pellet form. Typical wood litter primarily use pine, cedarwood, juniper, spruce, and fir natural wood fibers.
According to the United States Department of Agriculture, a scientist known as Steve Vaughn and his colleagues created one of the first biodegradable litters. They used eastern red cedar flakes, guar gum, food-grade mineral oil, and other organic materials.
Producers compress sawdust and wood shavings to make wood litter and convert them into absorbent pellets. They first dehydrate the wood shavings in high heat before compressing them into small wood pellets.
This drying process helps remove natural wood oils that are harmful to cats. For instance, pine wood contains phenol, a compound toxic to cats. The kiln drying process dampens and evaporates most of the phenol content in the wood, making the pine cat litter safe to use.
Wood cat litter is environmentally friendly because it uses the waste product of wood. It also makes it less expensive than other types of cat litter. Wood litters are free from toxic chemicals like pesticides. They also have a natural woody scent that prevents the foul odor from your cat’s waste from spreading.
Wood cat litters are biodegradable and not as dusty as clay cat litter. In addition, the pellets have a low tracking record. Your cat can't easily transport it around your home. H
However, wood-based cat litter is non-clumping, like clay-based cat litter. Cleaning your cat’s litter box won’t be a clean and easy scoop. Wood litter can absorb three times its weight in liquid, but the pellets break down into sawdust when they encounter moisture.
Another compostable cat litter is wheat cat litter. Manufacturers of eco-friendly cat litter use wheat straws unsuitable for food production and other biodegradable materials to make it. The method of manufacturing is easy and convenient. They can use wheat stalk, wheat powder, sesbania gum powder, salt, biological enzyme, and water to make the cat litter.
They turn the wheat stalk into flour, add biological enzyme formulation, salt, water, and mix them. After reaching the required consistency, they add the sesbania gum powder and more wheat powder. Passing the mixture through a roll extrusion, they shape it into litter granules and pellets. Then, they let it dry in a warm air drier.
The moisture content in the wheat litter is less than 10%. Wheat litter is a clumping cat litter, making it easy to scoop soiled litter and cat poop from litter boxes. It also has natural odor control, which reduces the intensity of cat waste smell. The natural cat litter has a low production cost.
It is dust free and flushable. Although, it's more advisable to add it to a compost pile and use it as a fertilizer.
Grass litter is a non-toxic cat litter made from various grass seeds. It is a natural clumping litter, just like clay cat litter. This feature grants grass litter natural odor control. Its natural grassy scent traps the scent of your cat’s poop.
Also, its clumping nature makes cleaning your cat’s litter box easy. Natural grass cat litter is dust- and chemical-free, with no added chemical compounds during production, making it safe for cats to use. You don’t have to worry about your cat getting harmed from mistakenly consuming the litter.
Cats also like the texture of grass seed litter on their paws. However, it tracks around easily. The litter is very lightweight, which makes it easy for your cat’s paws to send it around the house. Some cats might have a grass allergy, so they won’t be comfortable using natural grass litter. But it is one of the best eco-friendly cat litter for cats.
Corn cat litter is eco-friendly and produced from corn cobs or kernels. It is dust free, biodegradable, and compostable. Corn cat litter is perfect for sensitive cats and cat owners. It is an excellent option for cats that have respiratory problems.
Some USDA Agricultural Research Service scientists discovered a way to create biodegradable cat litter. They produce it by processing grains leftover from corn ethanol production. These scientists are Steve Vaugh, Mark Berhow, Edward Lee, and Jill Moser.
They extensively studied how treated and spent grains known as x-DDGs (dried distiller’s grains) can be turned into corn litter. They treated the leftover corn with one or more solvents to extract any useful natural component in the corn scraps. Their research led to the formation of corn-based litter, which they combined with three compounds.
These compounds include glycerol, which makes the corn litter dust free, and a small quantity of copper sulfate to enhance the litter’s odor control abilities. They also use guar gum, a compound responsible for clumping litter. The corn cat litter produced using this method is very absorbent2. It is a strong clumping litter that doesn’t crumble when you scoop it out of the litter box.
Another natural cat litter is from walnut shells. Walnut shells are the by-product of walnuts in the food industry. So, cat litter manufacturers crush walnut shells and turn them into walnut cat litter. The finely ground walnut shells look similar to the traditional clay litter.
Walnut litters have earthy scents. The fibrous materials in the shells are effective at controlling the odors of cat poop. The biodegradable cat litter is great for cats with asthma and cat allergies. Another benefit of walnut litter is its dust-free quality. It has the texture of natural sand, which most cats prefer. Also, walnut shell litter is a natural clumping litter.
Another material used to produce eco-friendly cat litter is recycled paper. Recycled paper litter is absolutely dust free, and it doesn’t track around the house. Manufacturers often use paper waste like old newspapers and packaging papers to produce recycled paper litter.
Cat litter made from recycled paper is free from chemical additives. It is also great for a household with multiple cats. However, recycled paper litter is not clumping cat litter. It is easy to recognize soiled litter because they are wet and soft.
Some manufacturers add fragrances to the paper cat litter using plant extracts, but most recycled paper cat litters are fragrance-free. Some also add baking soda to make the litter more absorbent and control the odor of cat feces.
Tofu cat litter is from soy pulp that would have ended up in landfills. It absorbs liquid quickly and controls odor efficiently with its natural fresh scents. It is free from chemical additives and has very little dust.
Cleaning cat litter that doesn’t clump together can be tedious. Clay cat litter is one of the most popular cat litter because of its clumping qualities. It is straightforward to scoop it up and throw it out. However, some eco-friendly cat litter, like wood and paper, is lacking in that area. Cleaning the entire litter box is a lot of work.
Sifting paper and wood-based litter are next to impossible because of their sizes. The scoopers are more suitable for litter with small granules. Their large sizes also make them unsuitable for automatic litter boxes. They can’t pass through the litter-sifting system. To clean up this litter, get a scoop with large enough spaces for the clean pellets to pass through.
Another way to clean the litter is by scooping out clean pellets instead of dirty ones. This is reverse cleaning; usually, you scoop out the used litter and leave the clean one inside the box.
Since used wood pellets turn into sawdust, scoping out the clean ones is pretty easy. Transfer the sawdust into a trash bag, wash the litter box, and return the clean litter back inside. You can also cover the scoop with small trash bags and scoop up the dirty litter.
Some brands claim their eco-friendly litters are flushable. Regardless, it is not advisable to flush cat litter down the toilet drain. It doesn’t matter if it is clumping or non-clumping litter. The septic systems cannot break down litter. Flushing cat litter in your toilet can clog your septic system or standard plumbing.
Cat feces become dehydrated and hard, making it difficult to go down the drain. If it goes down the drain, you will use a lot of water to flush it. That's water wastage. Also, flushing cat litter can introduce parasites into waterways. According to the United States Environmental Protection Agency, pet waste harms fish and wildlife.
Cat urine and poop often contain a parasite known as Toxoplasma gondii4. When you flush it, it travels through the water system and infects humans. This infection could lead to pain, aches, and fever. It could also cause fetal development problems, blindness, brain damage, and premature childbirth. Also, toxoplasma gondii parasites can infect marine animals like southern sea otters1.
Related read: Why is Water Conversation Important?
You need to consider a few things before purchasing eco-friendly cat litter:
Eco-friendly litter should be biodegradable and compostable because of the organic raw materials used to produce it. So, check for litter made with organic materials like corn, wood, paper, etc. Avoid buying clay cat litter or crystal cat litter.
The texture of cat litter also matters. Cats are sensitive to different textures. They would prefer little sand granules to large pellets. However, large pellets are better for cats with long fur. It won’t get stuck in their fur and track around the home like litter sand.
You can opt for scented litter if you and your cat are not sensitive to fragrances. Scented litter is better because it helps cover up the scent of cat excretion. However, ensure that the manufacturer uses natural fragrances instead of chemical additives.
The intensity of a litter fragrance varies. It usually depends on if the litter is for a multi-cat or a single-cat household. Multi-cat litters contain higher levels of fragrances. The absorption rate is also higher because the manufacturer intended it for usage by multiple cats. So, consider buying multi-cat litter if you have two or more cats.
There are lots of eco-friendly cat litter brands online and in stores. It is easier to purchase the best natural cat litter brand for your feline friend online than at a physical store. Most physical stores only sell traditional cat litter brands. Here are some of the best natural cat litter brands and their prices:
Purchasing the best eco-friendly cat litter is essential. Using clay-based cat litter contributes to environmental pollution and damage. You can take an active step to reduce the impact of conventional litter on the environment by buying eco-friendly cat litter.
However, carefully dispose of your pet’s waste so it won’t contaminate water sources. Don’t flush your pet’s waste because most water treatment plans only cover human excretion. Lack of treatment of cat waste in the septic system can lead to many health complications. Choose from our nine sustainable cat litter brands to purchase eco-friendly cat litter today.
Using eco-friendly cat litter results in less environmental harm as it is biodegradable. It reduces the dependence on non-renewable resources, such as clay, that traditional clay litters use.
Eсо-friendly cat litter is made from recycled or sustainable materials, effectively reducing waste. Most brands are also compostable, further minimizing landfill contribution.
Absolutely, it can! Several eco-friendly litters use natural ingredients like pine, corn, or wheat, which naturally suppress unpleasant odors, providing effective odor control.
Yes, it is. Eco-friendly cat litters avoid harmful chemicals, making them safer for your furry friend. They typically generate less dust too, which is better for your cat's respiratory health.
Eco-friendly cat litter is commonly available in pet supply stores, supermarkets, and online retail sites. Always consider companies that maintain sustainable practices to support a greener planet.
Shapiro, K., VanWormer, E., Packham, A., Dodd, E., Conrad, P. A., & Miller, M. (2019, August 21). Type X Strains of Toxoplasma Gondii Are Virulent for Southern Sea Otters (Enhydra Lutris Nereis) and Present in Felids From Nearby Watersheds. The Royal Society Publishing.
Vaughn, Steven & Berhow, Mark & Winkler-Moser, Jill & Lee, Edward. (2011). Formulation of a biodegradable, odor-reducing cat litter from solvent-extracted corn dried distillers grains. Industrial Crops and Products. 34. 999-1002. 10.1016/j.indcrop.2011.03.005.
P S, Anju & D.S., Jaya. (2022). Impacts of Clay Mining Activities on Aquatic Ecosystems: A Critical Review. International Journal of Engineering and Advanced Technology. 11. 128-134. 10.35940/ijeat.D3495.0411422.
Park, Y. H., & Nam, H. W. (2013). Clinical features and treatment of ocular toxoplasmosis. The Korean journal of parasitology, 51(4), 393–399.
Mishra, A. (2015, June). Impact of Silica Mining on Environment (pdf). Academic Journals - Journal of Geography and Regional planning.
Jen’s a passionate environmentalist and sustainability expert. With a science degree from Babcock University Jen loves applying her research skills to craft editorial that connects with our global changemaker and readership audiences centered around topics including zero waste, sustainability, climate change, and biodiversity.
Elsewhere Jen’s interests include the role that future technology and data have in helping us solve some of the planet’s biggest challenges.