Is Cat Litter Bad for the Environment?

Using litter and a litter box is part of having a cat, but once your cat has used the litter you have to throw it out so your home doesn’t smell. What happens, though, to the litter? Is it bad for the environment? Does it just sit in a landfill somewhere? Is there a better option to use that would still be useful in the house?

Cat litter box

Aside from wondering about the impact of cat litter on the environment once you have used it, there is also the process for making the cat litter before you even purchase it at the store.

In addition to that, there are endless options for cat owners to purchase the cat litter of their choice in stores today. The downside to all these options is that some of these cat litters are not only harmful to the environment but to your cat as well.

The good news is that if you’re concerned about the health of your cat and the environment, you have some alternatives to the traditional cat litter so you can choose options that you know are helping the environment.

So, does cat litter hurt the environment?

How is cat litter produced?

The process for making the more traditional kinds of cat litter – clay and crystal versions – does hurt our environment a little bit.

The clay version of cat litter is made from bentonite clay, which is pulled from the earth using a process called strip mining. However, to get to the clay portion, the topsoil and vegetation must be removed and disposed of.

This process can mean a loss of habitats for various wildlife, and even sediments can be washed into local bodies of water which would hurt the fish and aquatic wildlife that live there. In addition to all of that, the whole process of strip mining is really noisy and creates a lot of dust in the surrounding area.

Even after all of that, you still don’t have the clay for cat litter. From there, it must be transferred to a factory to be baked – which removes all the moisture from it and that is what allows it to absorb the moisture in the litter box – and then crushed into really fine granules. These granules are the cat litter you buy at the store in a package.

So does that mean that when you throw out the used litter it will eventually biodegrade because it came from the earth originally? The short answer is: no.

There is a reason for that, though. Often times, when we find ancient societies the only items left in tact are the clay pots and artifacts from that society. Clay won’t break down and it doesn’t decompose naturally like other organic materials do.

So, in short: clay cat litter is not biodegradable nor should it be considered for compost.

Alright – what about crystal cat litter then?

Well, it’s about the same. While the process for getting crystal cat litter isn’t exactly the same as clay it is still quite extensive and is fairly harmful for the environment.

The crystals do come from strip mining, but is made from sodium silicate sand. This material is the same thing that can be found in those tiny packages that come in new products to absorb moisture, and often say “Do Not Eat”.

In summary, crystal cat litters are not a sustainable or environmentally friendly alternative to clay cat litters.

So, what can you use then if you are looking for a cat litter that is environmentally friendly?

There are a number of different kinds of cat litters you can find on the market that are biodegradable so they aren’t just going to end up in landfills forever and ever.

What are they made of?

Natural cat litters are often made of renewable materials like wheat, corn and pine. The majority of them are also already recycled waste materials so these cat litters are finding a way to reuse the materials we’re already throwing away.

Some cat owners have been hesitant on switching to natural cat litters because they are worried that the natural options won’t absorb the moisture, as well as clay or crystal options, do.

You might also like to read about: Most Environmentally Friendly Cat Litter

 What are the greener options for cat litter?

In some cases, there are eco-friendly options that are actual cat litter but that doesn’t mean all the alternatives have to be traditional cat litter. Here are a few alternatives for cat litter that are more environmentally friendly than traditional ones.


If you have a subscription to a newspaper that is delivered to your house, you can use the newspaper once you are done. You can crumple it up and put it in the litter box for your cat to use.

The only downside to using this alternative is that you can’t scoop it up very easily and you’ll likely have to use gloves to completely remove it from the box. Additionally, you will need a decent number of sheets of newspaper to form an absorbent base and you’ll have to change it often.

If you don’t subscribe to a newspaper, or don’t want to make your own litter box filler out of old newspaper there are options you can purchase, like Yesterday’s News Cat Litter from Purina. It is unscented, usually, and soft on their paws so it’s not unpleasant for your cat to step into the litter box with the change of litter used.

DID YOU KNOW: newspaper litter is reportedly three times more absorbent than the clay used in traditional cat litters?

Wood shavings

At most pet stores, they will sell wood shavings for smaller pets like rats and guinea pigs. This material is often used as bedding for these pets but it’s also absorbent so there’s no reason it can’t be used in a litter box situation.

It doesn’t clump like cat litter does, but it can definitely be scooped up and removed without having to change the whole bedding. It will take a decent amount of bedding to fill in a litter box, but wood shavings are biodegradable and much more environmentally friendly.

As a bonus, wood shavings can help reduce the odor of a litter box and has a natural, pleasant odor to it so you won’t have that litter box smell in your home.

Pine chips

There are some cat litter options made of dust-free pine chips. These are very environmentally friendly as they’re coming from a natural source, and they’re biodegradable. Additionally, the pine chips will help provide a fresh scent in your home to help cover the typical litter box smells.

Wheat Litter

You might be questioning what wheat litter is, and if it’s even effective for a litter box but it is. A product like sWheat Scoop Fast Cat Litter Clumps is a valid alternative to traditional cat litters.

Wheat is used because the natural enzymes in it help to minimize the odors of a litter box. It also produces very little dust and is a low-tracking option so you won’t find it all over the house after your cat uses the litter box. This kind of cat litter is biodegradable and compostable.

Corn Litter

Similar to wheat, corn can be used as a material for cat litter. Corn has similar properties for wheat for being absorbent and then natural enzymes found in it can help reduce the amount of odor coming from the litter box. Corn-based litter will clump up very similar to the way traditional cat litters do, so you can easily scoop it out in the same way.

The bonus of corn-based litter is that corn is also sewer and septic safe so if some of it accidentally gets flushed down the toilet then you know that you probably aren’t going to be facing a major plumbing issue. It also won’t stick to the bottom of the litter box so if you have a mechanical litter box it won’t get all that gunk built up during the cleaning process.

If you’re looking for a way to reduce the amount of waste your home contributes, changing up your cat litter can be a great place to start. There are a number of at home options – like you can cut up old newspapers before you recycle them and put them in the bottom of the litter box.

Many of the ecofriendly options – like wheat and corn – can be purchased in clumping or non-clumping varieties, depending on which one you prefer. As an added bonus, you don’t have to give up the fresh scent of the traditional cat litters, either. Greener options still give your home a fresh smell while being compostable and you don’t have to worry about them sitting in a landfill forever.

If you make your own compost, you can compost some of these kinds of cat litter to produce healthy and useable compost for your garden at home.

Switching to a natural cat litter can help reduce your impact in the environment, and most of these options are not any more expensive than traditional cat litters would be. You can also keep your home smelling fresh and know that you’re making a greener choice with some of these litter options!

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