(Part of my Green This House program.)
A couple of years ago, back when sustainability was a catchphrase rather than a household motto, and my lifelong emotional malaise was spiraling ever more downward than usual, we invested in an electric-powered automated litter box to make our lives a little bit easier. Now, of course, it’s become the 800-pound gorilla dogging my ongoing efforts to green our lives, especially considering the litter box uses disposable plastic containers. (Mon dieu!) Despite conventional wisdom that you do WHATEVER THE 800-POUND GORILLA DAMN WELL WANTS, we’ve gone over all our options, including dumping it (waste of money and resources), giving it away (no difference, just palming off our guilt), or simply disconnecting it and using it as a regular, old school poop shack (”That’s just stupid,” said the hub, who lacked the will and I the energy).
Finally, we met ourselves halfway with what I thought to be a decent compromise: Disconnect it for most of the day, flip the switch once after work to clear the byproducts of Chekhov’s daily contemplations, then turn the litter box off again. We also decided to reuse the plastic receptacle instead of tossing it and its hapless successors in the trash every week. The automated litter box wasn’t going to vanish into nonexistence as much as I wished it would, and this way, the hub reasoned, we’d be reducing its ecological footprint—which wasn’t going to be the case if we had given it away—while still reaping its benefits.
At around the same time, a post by Clay and Wattles up north inspired me to do some research on flushable cat litter, since, like most people’s cat overlords’, Chekhov’s pathogen-laced caca ended up in the landfill, where, according to the San Francisco Chronicle, it is “mummified for generations in plastic bags.” From the same story:
“American dogs and cats produce 10 million tons of waste a year, and no one knows where it’s going,” said Will Brinton, a scientist in Mount Vernon, Maine, and one of the world’s leading authorities on waste reduction and composting. “That’s really beginning to be looked at as a nightmare.”
Further investigation led to the discovery that clay litter is strip-mined, an environmentally devastating excavation process. (Merde!) Not only is the clay sediment permeated with carcinogenic silica dust that can coat Chekhov’s little lungs, the sodium bentonite that enables the litter to clump can poison him through chronic ingestion. That’s not the worst of it, according to Care2.com:
Sodium bentonite acts like an expandable cement, which is why these litters should not be flushed: they swell to fifteen to eighteen times their dry size and can be used as grouting, sealing, and plugging materials.
Cats often lick themselves after using the litter box, ingesting pieces of the litter. If litter gets inside them, it expands just as it does in the plumbing.
An article on the sheer nastiness of clumping clay litter had me clutching my kitty to my chest and bawling apologies for endangering him through my ignorance.
Very soon after, we started mixing the naturally clumpable and flushable corn-based World’s Best Cat Litter to Chekhov’s regular litter for a less traumatic transition for our change-adverse cat. World’s Best has no clay, silica, odor-absorbing crystals, or any synthetic additives, and, because it’s produced from corn kernels, Chekhov can ingest it during grooming without any problems. One cat-lover has some reservations about whether the corn is actually organic, however, but she agrees that it is a far safer alternative to conventional litter. (She reviews a multitude of alternative litters here.)
So far, we’ve been very pleased with this litter and Chekhov has taken to it without much fuss. Quite unexpectedly, my asthmatic sister, who is staying with us for the duration of her summer internship, no longer suffers the persistent wheezing she used to during prior visits. In fact, I don’t think I’ve seen her whip out her inhaler even once. I guess the proof, as they say, is in the pooping.