Flushable cat litter is not widely used by house cats in the US, but the idea has been gaining popularity over the years. Concerns about the environment have paved the way for new green litter brands to hit the market.
Judging by the discussions I've had with readers, topics in Facebook groups, and questions I've gotten, it would seem as though people are waking up to alternative cat litters.
The majority of cat litter in use today is still either clumping clay litter, made of bentonite, or the old style non-clumping clay litter. In fact, as discussed below, alternative cat litters don't seem to be gaining in popularity, despite what I hear on the streets. Clay rules.
There are a number of environmental issues associated with the use of cat litter.
This includes both the production of the litter (strip mining clay, for example), and the disposal of the litter and cat waste itself.
A relatively small percentage of cat owners use alternative litters that are eco-friendly.
These alternative litters are made of everything from silica gel, to old newspaper (Yesterday's News), to sawdust from pine (Feline Pine), to soybean and potato (Close to NatureNow).
Many of these litters are absorbent, lightweight, dust and (almost) track-free, provide natural odor control, and appeal to an eco-friendly crowd.
Some are supposed to be flushable. So, they seem good, at least on the surface, but are they really flushable? Are they even biodegradable?
On the surface, flushable cat litter seems like a good idea. After all, we send our human waste down the toilet all the time, so why not cat waste?
Well, flushing may be a good idea gone bad. Here's why:
According to information online from plumbers, flushing cat litter (including flushable products) is probably going to make your plumber a lot of money. Flushing any significant amount of cat litter of any kind down the toilet will probably result in clogged pipes at some point.
Note: Swheat Scoop Natural Wheat Litter claims to be the only litter on the market that’s certified flushable by the SGS U.S. Testing Company. It's made from wheat, which contains enzymes that neutralize litter box odor.
Next, there are some environmental issues with flushing cat feces. First, waste treatment plants are not designed to handle T. gondii (the parasite that causes toxoplasmosis and may reside in cat feces). Second, whatever you flush can end up in places you hadn't realized, such as bodies of water, like, I don't know, the ocean?
In California, for example, there have been concerns that T. gondii is hurting the sea otter population. As a result, any cat litter sold there has to contain a statement that discourages flushing.
Never mind how the heck human waste gets to the sea otters, that's a whole other discussion. Just know that it does.
So, for the most part, flushable cat litter really isn't, and many people end up simply disposing of it the old fashioned way... in the garbage.
Most of these alternative litters end up in the landfill right along with the clay litter. The difference, of course is that unlike clay, many of these litters are biodegradable, or at least that's how they're advertised.
Another question concerns the biodegradable claims of some of these companies.
Mark Klaiman runs Pet Camp and Pet Camp Cat Safari in San Francisco, CA. Pet Camp is a unique, certified green boarding facility for cats and dogs. In this article on litter and the environment he elaborates on the environmental impact of producing and disposing of, cat litter.
One of the points he makes is that these "natural" kitty litter products might be biodegradable if you sprinkle them in your garden, but not if you put them in a plastic bag and send them off to the landfill. Even if you do use the used litter as mulch, you have to remove the feces and dispose of that separately.
"While no study has been conducted directly evaluating how such liter breaks down in landfills, studies performed by W.L. Rathje at the University of Arizona confirm that most modern landfills are packed very tightly, contain little soil and not very much oxygen. These environmental conditions greatly inhibit biodegradation of even products that in other environments would biodegrade."
Klaiman also points out that composting may be possible, but San Francisco (and likely other areas) won't allow kitty litter or animal feces to be collected for this purpose.
If you're currently using clumping clay litter in the box, you might be wondering if you should switch. You might even be feeling some pressure to switch to an alternative.
I'll have to leave it up to you to answer that question. I will say that switching litters can kick off litter box problems and end up being just an expensive experiment. So be prepared if you do switch.
My intention here was not to go into all the details on the types of alternative litters, but only to address the flushable cat litter aspect. As I did more and more research on this subject, however, it became clear that the alternative litters have their problems.
So while clay litters may have a reputation for impacting the environment, flushing just doesn't seem like a good option either.
One of the reasons stated by a number of resources that clay litters are more popular is cost per pound. I would say also though that clay simply works so well (in most cases) that most people might be reluctant to switch.
For example, pellet type litters are either uncomfortable
for sensitive paws, or perhaps simply don't feel right to the cat. Clay
has that sandy feel that cats seem to like most, which can be important for initial litter box training or if your cat goes off the box at some point.