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Earth Friendly: Scoop on biodegradable cat litter

By Victoria Advocate
June 16, 2010 at 1:16 a.m.

Meridith Byrd

By Meridith Byrd

A trip down the pet aisle might leave you wondering: what is the difference between all the types and brands of cat litter?

Clumping, flushable, natural clay, dust-free and environmentally friendly are some of the phrases you might see on the packaging.

Seeing "environmentally friendly" on a container of cat litter might leave you with the question, "Why wouldn't cat litter be good for the environment?" The answer lies in the way litters are manufactured.

Most brand-name cat litters are comprised of a type of clay called sodium bentonite. This mineral, which also contains silica, is known for its excellent absorbency. The clay is extracted from the earth by a process known as strip mining, defined by Wikipedia as "the practice of mining a seam of mineral by first removing a long strip of overlying soil and rock." Strip mining is extremely destructive to the environment and can impact the water resources of the surrounding area.

Many conventional litters can also produce a dust because of the silica contained in the bentonite; breathing in the silica dust can cause respiratory problems in cats.

An alternative is to buy an environmentally-friendly cat litter, often made of pine wood pellets, recycled newspaper, corn kernels, wheat or even sawdust. Unlike clay, these materials are renewable and will break down in a landfill. Feline Pine, World's Best Cat Litter and Swheat Scoop are among the brands available here in Victoria.

Feline Pine is made from reclaimed Southern yellow pine pellets, meaning that no new trees are cut down, and comes in original and clumping versions. The original type contains larger pellets that absorb liquid and then break down into smaller particles. The clumping type contains added guar gum to aid in clumping for easier scooping. The pine naturally absorbs and neutralizes the ammonia to control odor.

World's Best Cat Litter is another popular, biodegradable brand and is made of whole-kernel corn, grown in the U.S. The kernels are porous, absorbing moisture and odor when they clump. Litter can get trapped in a cat's paws and ultimately ingested during grooming, but since this litter is made of corn it is not toxic to animals and passes through the body without being digested.

Swheat Scoop is also biodegradable and nontoxic, made of U.S.-grown, non-food grade wheat. Naturally-occurring enzymes in the wheat control odors, while the starches promote clumping. The unused litter can actually be composted or used as mulch in flower gardens (not in vegetable gardens), once it has been scooped carefully.

All three are popular, highly-rated brands that avoid the use of silica.

Meridith Byrd is a marine biologist and invites read ers to contact her at meridith.byrd@gmail.com.

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