How to recycle your cat

Filed in Blog by on September 27, 2010 16 Comments
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One of Natasha's bundles of joy

One of Natasha’s bundles of joy

Last week, Antonio challenged me to recycle without use of my car, kerbside collection or compost.

This week, Natasha has a challenge of the feline sort for me. As you may be aware, I’m a cat lover. To me a house is not a home without a cat and although I love our cute bunny, I do miss our cats. I’ve not been without a big bundle of feline loveliness for the past 21 years, until now…

So imagine my delight when Natasha sent me a ‘green cat’ challenge. Although Antonio’s challenge was hard I think this one is far more difficult.

Cat litter

Natasha has 7 cats who between them create 30 empty tins, one cardboard box and here’s the problem: 6 x 10 litre bags of clay based cat litter. As you can imagine, this is a staggering amount of heavy waste.

5 of the cats are still kittens, so getting rid of the litter trays is not an option at the moment.

Natasha has 3 trays to take care of which get lined with newspaper to save on cleaning and are emptied 4 times a day.

Limited Budget

Natasha’s other challenge is her limited budget. She has tried the sawdust pellet litter which was composted and she got on well with, but on her current budget this is not feasible.

Her question is “How do I make keeping cats ‘greener’. Is there a way that is good for the planet and our budget?”


2 million tonnes

I must admit, I had a wonderful image in my mind of the ‘Meet the Fockers’ movie where the cat knows how to flush the toilet. I wonder if Natasha’s kitties would like to be toilet trained? (joking aside, this isn’t good for seals, so don’t do it)

Unfortunately, I don’t think I have a cunning plan up my sleeve or anything new to wow Natasha with, but here’s the (poop) scoop. Every year we throw away 2 million tonnes of cat litter into the landfill. Clay based litter is obtained by strip mining which is an incredibly destructive process removing millions of tonnes of earth just so our cats can take a dump. Therefore, Natasha is right in highlighting this issue because it’s a biggie.

Soil instead of clay

Personally, if they were my cats I would fill the litter trays with soil instead of a shop bought litter to save money and find an area in my garden where I could put the soil back again after use. Just dig a small hole and throw it in; after all, once these kittens grow up they’ll be doing their business in the garden anyway. This might even mean Natasha gets a neater garden because they’ll be attracted to where she is already putting their used litter rather than going all over the place.

Granted, using soil is more messy in the house than clay based litter, but in my past experience, you get clumps of whatever litter you use strewn across the house anyway, so you always have to regularly brush up. Cat litter has a habit of getting stuck in the pads of a cat’s paws; I distinctly remember one of my cats whom I’m quite sure used to deliberately pick up clumps of the stuff between her claws and throw it across the room in defiance.

Sodium Bentonite

Why was she fed up of her clay litter? Because it’s potentially pretty toxic stuff. I don’t often branch out into the wider health / environmental issues of products, but I will have a quick mention about cat litter which you can take or leave as you wish. Some clay based litters use Sodium Bentonite as the clumping agent, which, in some sensitive cats can cause respiratory disorders due to the dust it creates. When a cat breathes in the dust, (and s/he will when they’re scraping and sniffing around in there) there is a small risk that these particles get into the lungs and then expand (just as it does when they wee on it), which can cause problems.

Likewise, cats are meticulous creatures and if they have the dust on their fur and clean it; again the moisture in their body can react with it and cause dehydration – not good for kitties digestion or kidneys.

Now I’m not an authority on this but I’m just sayin’ that this is what I’ve heard and it’s worth bearing in mind… This might make cleaning up garden soil more attractive ;).


The other option is to go to a local sawmill and ask for bags of sawdust. They’ll give it you for free (at least they did when I had a pet rabbit as a child). Even if it was an affordable option, I’m not sure about wheat or corn based litter because wheat and corn are FOOD for PEOPLE. Just like I’m not sure they should be burned for fuel so we can continue to use cars and planes while other people starve; but that’s for another day …


I’m the kind of person who looks at the root cause of things rather than treating things at symptom level. So let’s talk about poop. Poop is a by product of what you put in the other end of the tube. Put simply – what you put in, you get out. This means the other option is to look at diet.

7 cats using 3 trays which have to be cleaned 4 times a day is a whole lot of catty ​​​​​​business to be dealing with​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​. Switching to a more natural diet (ie the raw food diet) has been shown to slow down that whole process from one end to the other. It might seem more expensive initially, but your cat will need less to eat than tinned food (which is, after all, only about 4% meat and the rest is fillers so the fillers are getting passed out​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​), they will be healthier (so less veterinary bills) and they will poo less which means less litter and waste to deal with.

In the garden

Once the kittens were able to go outside that would be it for me​​​​​​​ – the end of litter tray days and a bottle of champagne to celebrate​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​. Just as you don’t expect a child to need a nappy once they are toilet trained; a cat doesn’t need a litter tray once it is going outdoors. Sure it will try it on because it’s nicer and easier to use a neat litter tray, and who wouldn’t want some comfortable, warm​​​​​​ cat litter on a day when the ground is frosty ​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​but you have to be a tough lion yourself and kick them out when they are mewing with neglect and keeling over from anxiety when you’ve removed their tray.​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​​

Even when our beloved cattus green was literally on her last legs, she still retained her dignity and successfully got outside 95% of the time to do her toileting… [incidentally, Eco Anxiety, is now recognised as a condition where people who are overwhelmed with eco guilt can become anxious. If you’re feeling that way and need someone to talk to, there are experienced counsellors you can talk to online via BetterHelp.]

Your suggestions

So I’m not sure there has been any massive revelation there, but I’ve done my best to come up with some options and hope some of it is helpful. There are lots of cat owners on my zero waste, so please share your insights in the comments below and let’s help Natasha be the proud owner of the greenest cats in Britain.

Natasha is a gifted and creative artist; she makes ‘new stuff out of old stuff’ and is a born recycler, so she wants her kitties to reflect her lifestyle choices. You can check out her blog or follow her updates on facebook.

About the Author ()

I am a long time supporter of the Green and Sustainable lifestyle. After being caught in the Boscastle floods in 2004, our family begun a journey to respect and promote the importance of Earth's fragile ecosystem, that focussed on reducing waste. Inspired by the beauty and resourcefulness of this wonderful planet, I have published numerous magazine articles on green issues and the author of four books.

Comments (16)

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  1. Poppy says:

    I have just written about having cat litter trays inside, as we have kittens and one cat can’t go out until she has ben ‘vetted’ LOL, I knew that clay litter was bad but couldn’t remember why so thank you for filling the gap in my knowledge.
    I would love to compost the cat litter but everything that I have read says that it shouldn’t be used anywhere near where food is grown, does feeding raw meat make it safe to compost with everything else?

  2. Madam Salami says:

    Thank you Mrs Green,
    It was all pretty much as I suspected really!
    I do have some good news though, the kittens have started going outside and they have their very own compost filled ‘litter tray’ outside which my husband made from an old wardrobe, that they seem happy to use. I have now decicided that the compost bin we have is now to be soley for cat use. I can still compost my food waste in ti but everything coming out will be for cat use only. We are also, already, emptying the trays less, as the kittens are getting bigger their sleep, eat, poop cycle is getting longer so they don’t need to go so often – which is great!

    Also the point about feeding them fresh food is a very good one. One of the kittens won’t eat cat food of any type so she is on a fresh meat or fish diet (alng with some corn on the cob or peas – which she loves!) and she eats far less than the others. We often visit our local fisherman who refuses to give me the fish guts for the cats as he says it will make them ill but is happy to give us a small mackeral of two for them instead.
    They get a whole chicken once a week and that actually lasts them 2 days, so I am very keen to switch all their processed foods for fresh.

    I will look into the sawdust idea too, I’m happy with filling the litter trays with soil but Mr Salami isn’t so keen on the mess!

    Thanks so much for looking into it for me, and all other cats owners. I had no idea actually how awful clay litter is so that is the first thing I am changing!

  3. Kelly says:

    Yeah we had this problem!!! I have an elderly cat who doesn’t DO snow so for four months last year we had to do the cat litter thing.
    We did use the wood pellets thoguh which as pointed out are compostable (we had a seperate “dirty” compost bin under some trees which things like cat litter and dog poo went in).
    Saw dust is ok but will get tracked around the house! A better option is wood shavings, you see the tiny bales in supermarkets for bunnies? DON’T BUY THEM!!! Go to your local horse feed shop and buy the BIG bales, about 500 x the amount for @ £5!.
    Soil is a do-able option, also leaf litter if you have access.
    I know the ppl at Touchwood use beach sand for their cats which is obvioulsy free, but only any good if you live near a beach.
    We experimented with ash from the log burner but found it too messy lol.
    Another long term option could be making a secure run outside for the cats, a cat flap into a a garden area where they can do their business and you just pick it up like dog poo every day (and compost it!).
    It sounds like a lot of money but I bet it would pay itself back within a year when you consdier the price of cat litter.

  4. Kelly says:

    Hi Poppy!
    Cat, dog and human poop needs a lot longer to compost to make it safe for using on food. What we do is have a seperate compost bin for using on things like fruit trees and bushes. The danger is using it on food that comes in direct contact with the compost and pathegons may still be prestent in it. However humanure ( ) has been shown to be safe to use on normal crops with care and cat litter should be the same. Bare in mind though that if yoru cats are vaccinated and wormed this also gets into the poop. 🙂
    Great blog BTW 😀

  5. Katy says:

    “I know the ppl at Touchwood use beach sand for their cats which is obvioulsy free, but only any good if you live near a beach.”

    Please don’t take away sand (or stones) from beaches. It’s one of those “if everyone did it” things – especially at sixty litres of material (a day?!!) it can soon have a huge impact on habitats and even erosion. Leaf litter in woods is also an important part of the ecosystem that would be used up faster than it could replenish itself.

    • katy, i feel compelled to compliment your natural ethics, aside from all cat concerns, we, the so-called earth stewards must think twice about using far too much of free resources; because we so far outnumber cats and dogs, and soon will have used our immediate surroundings to rock bottom..
      thank you.

  6. Madam Salami says:

    @Katy: No Katy, not per day! Per week or just over and I gave Mrs Green the absolute maximum worst case useage, when I had 7 cats that couldn’t go outside, generally it’s 40L which I know is still not good hence asking Mrs Green to look into alternatives for me.

    Very young animals, including humans have very short, sleep, eat, poop cycles so have litter trays have to been cleaned more often, exactly the same as a very young baby needs it’s nappy changing more often than say a 1yr old would.

    As far as I was aware it’s illegal to remove pebbles or sand from beaches in large quantities anyway? Maybe I’m wrong about that.

    @Kelly: I do like your suggestion about trying at horse feed places for wood shavings though, less messy than compost and still compostable!

    As I said to Mrs Green I have experimented with using compost produced ourselves, this works fine for outside usage but is incredible messy in the house something like the wood shavings could be the answer. I can’t see that we will ever be without a litter tray as from personal experience, with the many cats I have owned, they are incredibly lazy and if it’s too windy (which it is here on the South coast) or too wet they won’t go to the toilet outside if they can avoid it and I’d rather have one tray than have them use corners of my carpet!
    I am very keen though to ensure that my keeping and enjoying them has as little environmental impact as possible.

  7. Hazel says:

    I have three cats and still have a litter tray- I’m not going without; lets just say I tried it and it didn’t work for us…

    I have struggled with my best option (on here, I think) and my current attempt is to flush the poo and put the rest in the kerbside garden/kitchen waste for municipal composting. Now this compost cooks at a sufficiently high temperature to decompose bone, so should I be putting the poo in as well instead of putting it down the loo? I don’t want to be making seals ill!

    It is, (to quote DD1),doing my head in. Whatever I do isn’t quite right.

    My only suggestion is that there are instructions online for making your own catlitter. It’s most practical if you have children who enjoy making a mess in the garden, as you soak newspaper, strain it and then dry the pellets, but we had fun doing it in the summer. We (almost) followed this tutorial I think we did less rinsing.


  8. Isabel says:

    There were some really interesting thoughts here, thanks Mrs Green. The cat tray and litter from our cat is still a significant issue in our house. We currently use Catsan which is apparently made of chalk and quartz sand and lasts longer than the normal clay versions. I would love to get rid of the tray, but our cat is a bit of a ninny. She only has one eye so we can’t let her out after dark (the one time we did, we didn’t see her for 8 weeks and were lucky to get her back) which means she has to have a tray. The most frsutrating thing though is that, even in the summer when we leave the door open for her, she will come in from outside, use her tray, and then go back out again!

    I like the idea of switching to soil, but our garden is so tiny that there is literally nowhere that we could dig. So I might investigate the sawdust option which sounds cool.

    The other problem we have with our litter tray is that when Dora has left a solid deposit, my other half clears it up by putting it in a nappy bag. As someone who is trying to reduce plastic usage, obviously this is a big problem for me – so any suggestions for alternative scoop and disposal would be most welcome!

  9. catless in the heartland…i suffer the phantom aches in my arms, from not having a cat, for me, a siamese or a tiger, our last one was an orange one, yes we are cat people too, one or two at most…and neutered for the fact that there are millions of stray cats in the US and the toll on birds, garbage and food chain is too long and hard.

    so: toxoplasmosis pathogens are too great a risk to place the cat litter within the food garden or playground areas…if using organic litter such as a mix of sand, newspaper shreds or sawdust, then make a ‘special’ corner far from house where to make your daily deposits, add some ashes on top to deter feral cats which could bring unknown germs to the local felines.

    children love to crumble dry leaves in parks, take a bag and bring home your free’ found seasonal litter filler. visit the nearest furniture factory or cabinet maker for wood shavings. or befriend an amateur carver, or wood-chipper owner. oh, make sure you don’t store the surplus in an area prone to mice, or the cats may have more fun in the litter box than you’ve imagined…

    mrs green, thanks for the food tips, i always save the less tasty bits of sinew or gristle for the animals, it exercises their jaws and makes them believe they are free spirits on a hunt. of course we have wild game a plenty here, so no cost involved…but the less savory edges of a dinner entree will not harm a cat anymore than the mystery ingredients in commercial cat-food.

    ps: tip for cat indigestion ( which might smell poorly in litter) a spoon of cottage cheese, or whey if needed.

  10. Compostwoman says:

    I flush solid cat poo down the loo ( but we are on a closed septic tank type system here…..)

    and the recycled paper or wood based pellets go into the huge storage high carbon compost bin to be added to the ” not on salads or root crops” compost bins… needed to balance out the green high nitrogen stuff

    I am being super cautious here I think, as after all the older cats add their faeces and urine to the soil directly, around salads, root crops etc…(!) but I prefer to control the compostables in this manner….

    failing that I would use leaf litter or soil or compost and remove the poo , flush it and compost the rest in the same way.

  11. Naomi Sandoval says:

    Just wanted to challenge the assumption that cats should go outside. They are generally invasive exotics. In the US, you must sign a contract when you get a kitten or cat from the shelter or a breeder stating that you will not let it outside. This also helps with strays and with health issues. I realize it’s quite a foreign concept. The time I let my Brit boyfriend convince me to met my cat go out, the cat contracted a virus and died. Never again.

  12. Kelly says:

    @Naomi Sandoval:
    It is a UK USA divide, anyone who has ever been on a pet forum will know the bad feeling between both camps 😛
    I am lucky enough to live in a fairly remote area, away from roads, other houses and the only other local cat is my neighbors. I feel comfortable allowing my cat to roam in this situation.
    However if I lived in an urban area with fast roads and high population (of ppl AND cats) then I wouldn’t allow my cat outside.
    Its all about risk assessment.

    Indoor cats may live longer by not getting run over (although my current cat is 13 and still here!) but they can suffer from other ailments like UTI and obesity. If not properly stimulate they can suffer from stress and boredom and indoor cats have a much higher rate of behavioural problems.

    They are not dogs, are not (generally) taken for walks for exercise and stimulation, they are still in essence semi-feral animals. Let a dog off in the wilds and he is likely to die, a cat would adapt pretty damn quickly.

    I am happy to allow my cat to hunt, climb, stalk and play outside and she is happy to come in at night for cuddles.
    Aso a recent long term study by the RSPB hows that cat population has no direct affect on bird populations, its an urban myth. Food supply and weather are the biggest killers of wild birds.

    There are many things that Americans do with their animals that truly horrifies me but allowing a cat out is not one of them.

  13. I visited the animal sanctuary Teckels last year. In their cattery they use a compostable cat litter (made of wood or recycled paper, I forget which). The poos are scooped out and can be flushed down the toilet then the leftover litter can be dug into the ground to decompose. I’ve not tried it myself but there was a gentleman there buying 20 bags of it for his adopted cats. He said it works out cheaper than buying it from the supermarket and obviously it’s supporting Teckels too. Less than a tenner for a 25kg bag I think.
    Contact details here if you wanted to find out more about it – I’m sure they’d be delighted to be featured.
    ps. they welcome volunteers for cat cuddling too!

  14. Doug says:

    Does anyone know of a way to make a DIY “Litter Genie” (Litter Locker, Litter Vault)? They are so expensive to maintain. It seems to be a Yuppie luxury, with their pricy refills. (upward of $25 for 3 that last 2 months per cat) I’ve searched for a way to make my own out of a 5 gal square bucket. Nothing. There has to be another way! Are there any Mcguyvers out there? `

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