Proper Cat Litter Disposal

Cat litter disposal presents a unique set of challenges for cat owners. Some estimates indicate that more than 2 million tons of clay litter is disposed of each year in the United States, so the sheer volume of used cat litter has a significant impact on landfills. The disposal issue is further complicated by the rules that some states and communities have enacted in an effort to protect both the environment and the citizens.

In some cases, the litter itself poses a health risk to cat owners. For all these reasons, it’s important to know how to dispose of cat litter safely.

The Environmental Impact of Used Litter

As noted above, the volume of used cat litter produced by U.S. cats annually is significant. Clay-based litters don’t biodegrade, so they will sit in a landfill for a long time. Even litters that are advertised as biodegradable don’t have the opportunity to break down in most landfills because they are disposed of in plastic bags that prevent decomposition from occurring.

On a larger scale, cat litter disposal can affect the health of wildlife. The state of California has limited the flushing of cat litter after sea otters in Monterey Bay began contracting toxoplasmosis. Wastewater facilities in the state are not designed to remove the toxoplasma parasite from the water supply, and the parasite enters the otter’s food chain via mussels and other shellfish. Cat litter sold in the state must carry a warning label explaining the dangers of toxoplasmosis to otters, and cat owners caught flushing litter are subject to fines of up to $25,000.

Some natural-based cat litters (those made of corn, wheat or other plant products) can be composted, but it may not be possible to use these litters as compost because your community may have restrictions against it. Additionally, it’s not recommended to use cat litter as compost for vegetable gardens (composting doesn’t kill parasite eggs that may be present in cat feces) to keep the harvest disease-free.

The Health Risks of Used Litter

For pregnant women and people with compromised immune systems, used cat litter presents some potential health issues. Both these groups are at greater risk for contracting toxoplasmosis than the general population, so it’s best if they are not exposed to used cat litter. If a pregnant woman or immunocompromised person must change a litter box, wear rubber gloves and a dust mask while servicing the box and wash your face and hands thoroughly with soap and water after the task is completed.

Safe Disposal Is Difficult

Safe disposal of used cat litter is a difficult problem, because it seems to create as many problems as it solves.

From a health standpoint, the safest method is probably to throw it out with your trash, but that creates increased landfill usage.

Flushable litters solve the landfill problem, but create potential health issues for wildlife (the California sea otter), groundwater concerns during wastewater processing, or plumbing headaches for homeowners.

Natural-based litters can be used as compost and weed-control agents around the yard, but they may also encourage feral neighborhood cats to use your yard as a bathroom, which may not be your intended result.

It all comes down to a matter of personal choice. Weigh the benefits and effects of the litter you currently use on your health and the environment and make the best choice for you and your cat.