cat looking surprised

Pet ownership is one of those ethically dubious behaviors from a sustainability standpoint — the jury is still out on its overall impact on the environment.

What we do know, though, is that pet owners can take steps to reduce their pet’s carbon footprint. Some of these choices are easier than others, like buying pet toys and accessories made from natural or recyclable materials and choosing pet food without wasteful packaging. Other questions are more vexing, particularly those related to pet waste.

The Cat Litter Conundrum

Cats pose a special problem because most owners use a clay-based litter, which is not biodegradable. Add to that the fact that owners typically scoop it into plastic bags, and you have a dangerously mined material — the sodium bentonite clay used in the litter — just piling up along with plastic in landfills. Clearly, it’s time to make a switch.

In place of clay or crystal litters, cat owners should swap to one of the following eco-friendly options. You may have to make some additional adjustments when you do, but it’s worth it for your pet and the planet.

1. Paper Litter

Paper litter is a popular litter alternative and most pet owners use it at least occasionally, for example if their cat is recovering from surgery. Pet owners commonly use it when litter training kittens, since it’s less dangerous if they consume it. As for its environmental impact, paper litter is made from recycled materials and will, of course, break down easily after it’s used. The main issue pet owners have with it is that it’s not as absorbent as clay litter, nor does it block odors well.

If you’re considering switching to paper litter (or another low absorbency litter), you may also want to make some changes to your cat’s diet. Feeding a holistic diet like Earthborn Holistic Pet Food that includes limited ingredients can improve your cat’s gut health and reduce litter box odors. Just be careful not to make too many changes at once, as cats often require some time to adjust to new food or litter.

2. Corn Litter

Corn and wheat litters have been around for years, but litter made from renewable crops has become much more popular in the last few years, with corn continuing to dominate the market. Because it’s more absorbent than similar paper products, corn litter is cleaner and retains less odor than similar products. Also, most corn litter products clump like clay litter, which many pet owners consider a key feature.

A Note of Caution

The expert consensus: It’s best to dispose of cat litter in the trash, even if you’re using a biodegradable litter. Use a paper bag or other compostable container so that you’re not contributing to plastic waste in the landfill. Once in the landfill, toxoplasmosis is sufficiently sequestered so you no longer need to worry about it. The bottom line is: Make the litter switch, but keep sending it to the landfill. It’s the most environmentally responsible combination.

By Jenna Cyprus

Jenna is a freelance writer and business consultant who covers business, technology and entrepreneurship. She's lectured for several universities and worked with more than 100 businesses over the course of the past 15 years. She's a mother of two kids, and loves to go camping, hiking and skiing with her family.