The best method for clean, safe and effective disposal of cat litter will depend largely on the type of cat litter you use within your home. For the average cat owner, a litter disposal strategy often involves decisions regarding the environment, the integrity of your plumbing, and some pressing hygiene issues. To achieve the safest and easiest mode of litter disposal, it may be necessary to change not only your disposal method, but the actual type of litter used as well.
General Litter Disposal
Most commonly, the equipment used for litter disposal consists of:
- A litter scoop
- Small plastic bags
- A surgical or particulate mask
The use of a mask is mostly optional, but for persons who use litter that is extremely fine and becomes airborne during litter cleanings, a safety mask can prevent litter particles from being inhaled or ingested. Litter scoops are relatively inexpensive and are sold at pet supply stores, as are small plastic litter bags. Many of these bags are also used by dog owners for picking up after their pet on walks.
To clean your litter box, simply scoop up the clumped litter bits and place them in the baggies, tying the bags tightly. If large portions of litter are removed during cleanings, be sure to refill the box to an adequate level. Once weekly, remove all litter from the litter pan and wash the pan with a reliable cleaner. You can also soak the pan in diluted chlorine bleach. afterward, refill the pan with entirely clean litter.
Litter Specific Disposal Methods
Disposal methods vary from one type of litter to the next. Some disposal methods are far less expensive and more ecologically conscious that others. So why aren't all pet owners leaping at an opportunity to be environmentally friendly? In some cases, a cat may have just as much say in the matter as its owners.
Clay and Clumping Litters
The most popular choices of clumping litter are the clay and silica varieties. Clay litter is the cheaper option and it is typically composed of natural bentonite clay. Unfortunately clay will often produce a dust during litter box cleanings. Using a litter scooper is a common method of box cleaning, but scooping up clay litter will often scatter clay dust into the air. This clay dust can easily be breathed in by pet owners during cleanings. Concerns have been raised about potential health problems for both pets and owners from inhaling clay clumping litters.
Scooping litter into small baggies is the most classic form of litter disposal. This process isn't very complicated, but it is hardly the most hygienic. To begin, the litter scoop must be kept somewhere. Unless you have purchased a costly litter cabinet that has a special place allocated for a litter scoop, the scoop must be kept somewhere in the house where it will mingle freely with the air and breed bacteria. Secondly, the bagged excrement must be thrown out. The bag can be placed in an in-home trash receptacle or an outside receptacle. Either way, over a day's period of time, odors will likely develop. Lastly, the accumulation of these baggies is a threat to landfills and is not the most ecologically sound choice.
Silica litter doesn't produce the same amount of dust during cleanings, but these products have also been linked to health problems upon inhalation or ingestion. Silica litter has also been classified as a carcinogen.
You should not flush silica or clay clumping litters down your toilet since both have high absorption properties. This may be handy for masking odors and clumping cat waste, but when exposed to the water in your toilet plumbing, these products can swell and create pesky blockages. For users of silica and clay litters, the trash can is the better mode of disposal.
Recycled Newspaper Litter
Cat litter made from recycled newspaper bits presents a more environmentally conscious decision, at least where processing is concerned. However, the methods of disposal regarding this product produce similar concerns as clay and silica litter. There is no dust produced during the scooping process, but recycled newspaper is highly absorbent. It may not break apart as easily as toilet paper, so it's best not to flush it down the toilet. Although some newspaper litter manufacturers claim that such products can be flushed, the scoop and the baggie is, again, the safer method.
Wheat and Corn Litters
Wheat and Corn litters do not clump as effectively as clay, silica or newspaper. For this reason, pet owners find them less risky when flushed. However, since these litters fail to clump as well as other products, watch carefully for scattered particles as you clean.
Pine litters, like corn and wheat, are biodegradable. While its strong pine scent may require an adjustment period for cats, pine litter is amongst the safest and easiest cat litters to deal with. It is made from pine lumber, is non-tracking and binds very well to waste. It is a flushable product because pine litter disintegrates so easily. In fact, the Feline Pine litter box takes even more of the guesswork out of pine litter, and its design is relatively simple. When it comes to ecologically kind litters and disposal methods, pine litter tends to be the highest reviewed product. However, its efficacy as a litter product poses entirely different issues since it's not as absorbant as clay litter and that means the litter box will need to be cleaned more often.
Is Flushing the Best Option?
Many pet owners are concerned with needlessly filling up landfills with bagged litter. Flushing litter down the toilet initially seems like the more environmentally favorable method. However, an article in Modern Cat poses some considerations regarding the ecological consequences of flushing cat litter. Sewage systems cannot inactivate toxoplasma gondii, a parasite that may be present in cat feces. This same parasite is the reason why pregnant women are told to avoid cleaning litter boxes. Toxoplasma gondii may make its way through sewage systems and into the ocean where it becomes harmful to wildlife.
Using biodegradable litters and biodegradable baggies will provide you with a safer and more ecologically sound method of litter disposal. Keeping your cat indoors will also lessen its exposure to pathogenic organisms that can contaminate its feces. There is no perfectly safe and hygienic method of handling cat waste, but using products that will not harm the environment combined with careful disposal methods will lessen both your cat's carbon footprint and your own potential for disease.