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Be Green

The Scoop on Poop (kitties)

So I get this comment on the blog from Diane:
I'm really trying to be green but I have one question for you. I presently have 3 cats, my question is, in order to be green, is there any recycling method for the dirty clumping litter?
Watch the video here.

What indeed do diligent cat lovers do when it comes to scooping the poop?
As far as I've been able to ascertain, there's no method of recycling soiled litter. Most of it ends up in plastic bags in a landfill.
Now some cat lovers may hiss, "But clay's natural, it comes from the earth, so what's the problem?"
Ahh, but there ARE problems--both environmental as well as those potentially related to the health of your beloved feline.

Now, there has been no conclusive proof that clumping cat litter (i.e. litter that uses the ingredient SODIUM BENTONITE) may cause intestinal blockages and other forms of toxicity in cats--especially with kittens who are prone to experiencing their world through taste.
Clumping litter may also lead to problems with dogs (like my Lucie), who are inexorably drawn to "litter box cookies". Yes, eww!

That said, there's no conclusive proof that clumping litter is safe either. I noticed that litter dust was getting everywhere in my house and I threw the stuff out. I don't need more sources of dust and I hate to think how much clay my cats ingest with their constant grooming. Plus I read that sodium bentonite swells to 15 to 18 times its dry size when wet. So image a lump of this stuff in your cat's system (from groomed paws or curious tasting) expanding and absorbing moisture.
You can find an excellent article on clumping clay litter here.

Now, ever wondered how all that clay got from the earth into your litterbox in the first place? Most sodium bentonite is strip mined. And if you want to know what that means exactly, follow this link

And if you thought that clay litter is a by-product of some other process, you'd be wrong. Actually, most clay mines are dug for the specific purpose of providing cat owners with kitty litter. And don't even get me started on native land rights issues!

So what's a conscientious feline lover to do?
Actually, there are lots of excellent options.
I've outlined some of them in a piece I did for our afternoon lifestyle show "Living". Take a look at this video (there's stuff on there for dogs and cats)

So the stuff I use for my own cats is called "copeaux de pins" in French. Nothing fancier than pine pellets! You can buy it at most J. E. Mondou stores for about $10 for a 40 lb bag. If used correctly, this bag will last you a good three weeks to a month (even with two cats). If you buy a big bag of this stuff at your local hardware store, it'll probably be even cheaper. It's sold for people with wood stoves.

There are several reasons that pine pellets are my favourite choice:
1. They're a by-product of the lumber industry. This means that we're not actually creating something, merely using leftovers from another process.
2. You can flush your cats' solid waste down the john. No plastic.
3. Cat pee turns the pellets into a sort of powder that can be used as mulch in your garden. My husband and I put it into our backyard composter, but you can simply dig a hole in the corner of your yard and this waste will help nourish your plants. If you're worried about contamination of food crops, simply use it with decorative plants that won't end up on your plate. This is a step worth considering if you're pregnant or plan to be in the near future.
5. Pine litter controls smell quite effectively. Our litterbox doesn't stink at all any more!
4. This is an excellent option if you have a very young cat (who's likely to eat litter), one with a history of bladder infections (less dust) and a cat that's wounded or recovering from surgery (again, there's no dust, so it's easier to keep wounds clean). This is also a good option for those who have mild allergies--at least your problem won't be made worse by the thin layer of dust that seems to coat everything in a clumping litter household.

One viewer wrote in to me that she'd modified her litter box to better use pine pellets. She basically created a split level by using chicken wire mounted on a plywood frame. This is placed over the bottom part of the litterbox (in the case of a covered litter) and sits a little off the bottom of the box.
The pellets are then loaded onto the mesh.This means that only whole pellets and solid waste remain above the mesh while peed on pellets disintegrate and fall through the holes (you can simply empty the bottom once a day and this way you waste no pellets).
Ingenious I tell you!

If you're in a bind and can't find pine (or other wood) pellets, try recycled newspaper pellets like Yesterday's News. These function in quite the same manner. Unfortunately, newspaper pellets are MUCH more expensive, harder to find and don't control odour quite as well. But most vets recommend them for very young cats and the infirm and post-operative.

Have a shredder and access to newspapers?

It really could be that cheap. You can even hand-shred the paper if you like. Again, this may be a low cost option, but it won't control odour quite as well as the pine. And you might end up with newsprint on your floors from wet paws. Ick!

SWheat Scoop
This stuff is made of wheat. So it smells a little like oatmeal. I've tried it-- I must admit I didn't love it. You're supposed to line your litter pan with cooking oil to prevent the wheat from sticking to it. Urine tends to clump (and is flushable) and you can flush solid waste as you would with any of the other green litters. People with really old septic tanks beware-- you have to really limit the amount you flush at a time (and multiple flushings are not particularly eco-friendly). I found that I never quite got the hang of the oiling the pan thing--so the pee clumps would stick to the pan and I'd literally have to wrestle them off. Disgusting.
But I know folks that have had no problems.
I also found SWheat Scoop expensive at $30 for 18 kgs (that lasted me just under a month with 2 cats)


Of course, I did my research on pine pellets as well. It turns out, they're patently unsuitable for use with small animals.... AS BEDDING. So if you have rabbits or rats or hamsters, you don't want to be using this stuff to line their cages. The aromatic oils from the pine can cause severe respiratory distress and even death. But for cats who are un their litterbox for merely minutes per day, there's no danger (at least none that I've found).
Hopefully this answers your question, Diane. Keep 'em coming!

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Comments (3)

bonnie scheibner


Our dog is constantly eating from the cats litter box. We currently use a wheat based cat litter which does not contain any clay. What is your opinion on wheat cat litter? Also, are the pine pellets OK for the dog to ingest? Thanks, Bonnie

Posted May 5, 2008 02:49 PM

Geeta Nadkarni


Hi Bonnie,
I would recommend setting up the litter box in such a way that the dog can't gain access (even though the cats can). We've set up our box (a covered box) with the "door" facing a wall. There's just enough room for the cats to squeeze in, but not enough for our dog to get her big head into the "cat cookies". Also, we've put up a baby gate to block the dog's access to the room that the litter lives in while we're at work. This serves the double purpose of giving the cats a "safe zone" where they can hang out dog free. This was very useful the first year we got Lucie (the pooch), when Steenki and Elvis (the felines) weren't totally comfy with her. Now they all hang out together, but we still keep the gate up to discourage disgusting snacking.
As for ingesting pine pellets-- I can't imagine that the dog would eat a lot of them, so a little should be okay. But I will call my vet and ask--I don't have a clear answer yet. Again, it's certainly not something I would encourage. There's no nutritional value and though it's not as terrifying as sodium bentonite, I would worry about where those wood shavings would end up.
The wheat stuff is not bad. I just don't know how pure it is or whether there are chemical preservatives, etc thrown in. Also, since it's not meant for consumption, I'm sure they don't test it for melamine or other contaminants. I would get that dog outta the litter!

Posted May 5, 2008 02:58 PM

Alison Proteau


I use the Presidents Choice litter made from corn cobs. I do not like the fragrance they add to it and for that reason only I switched to Swheat Scoop. I HATED Swheat Scoop. I have a sifting cat box...two trays and a sifting tray.. and the Swheat Scoop always clogged the sifter when wet unlike clumping clay and the PC stuff. Drove me crazy and also, it did not help with the ammonia from the cat urine at all.
I went back to PC clumping corn cob litter after a couple months of experimenting and won't leave it again.
Also, my dog too snacks from the box...GROSS. We have to use a baby gate on the laundry room entry to keep her out but sometimes we forget or the cats knock it down. Nastiness.

Geeta says: I so hear you about the nasty snacks! LOL. Our dog does that too and we also have a baby gate. I've found the pine pellet litter to be the best ever. I also hated Swheat Scoop (mostly because I had trouble keeping the stuff from sticking to the bottom of the pan and getting rock solid! It was something about not oiling the litter pan adequately.) Hey, I'm all for a little extra effort if it pays off, but that stuff just didn't work for me. Pine litter it is. I'm sorry that the President's Choice litter has added perfume (SO nasty)--perhaps you could write to them to offer an unscented version. I'm sure cats all over Canada will thank you!

Posted April 21, 2009 12:29 PM

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