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The scoop with kitty litter

Having an animal companion these days raises all sorts of environmental and ethical questions. Very few humans actually need a cat or a dog as a working animal.

Having an animal companion these days raises all sorts of environmental and ethical questions.

Very few humans actually need a cat or a dog as a working animal.

Gone are the days when a cat would contribute towards a household by protecting the grain silo from the ravages of mice and rats.

The same can be said of dogs, although they do fill a role in providing a form of burglar alarm and some do provide value as sport companions in the form of dog-mushing and skijoring.

But the emotional value they provide is incalculable.

It is also a two way flow of support.

Pets comfort us, and humans try to return those feelings.

To that end humans tend to over cater to their pet needs.

This ranges from food to the associated waste disposal when that food ends up as urine and feces.

While dogs tend to do their business outside, and their owners are meant to clean up after them, cats are in a different ballpark.

They require an indoor place to defecate and that means a kitty litter bin.

This is where an environmental concern comes in.

The main environmental problem with kitty litter is not the smell caused by what is deposited it in.

Nor is it the mess it makes when cats track it through a home.

The big issue problem is where it comes from.

The raw ingredient

for kitty litter is mined in large open-pit operations.

Most kitty litters available are composed of clay.

Clay absorbs moisture, so it makes an ideal substance to deal with the waste products from the furry little bundle of joy that is known as the house cat.

Clumping kitty litter is derived from a special type of clay, sodium bentonite, but it still a clay.

Clay is extracted from the ground in a fashion familiar to anyone involved in the mining business.

It is strip mined, which means removing vegetation and top soil, and then digging a large shallow pit to get at the required mineral.

After the mine has been exhausted of profitable material, attempts to remediate the pit back into something resembling the pre-mining condition are often required.

As most Yukon residents can attest, the land usually never looks as good nor functions in the same manner as it was prior to the mine.

That means the joy of having a little tiger on the hearth rug is resulting in strip mining somewhere else on the planet just to keep the little beast in kitty litter.

It is similar in concept to human toilet paper.

Trees have to be cut down somewhere to provide what, at least in North America, is considered an essential piece of hygiene material.

Now there are alternatives.

Humans can choose to purchase toilet paper made from recycled paper.

They can also use what the majority of the world does, either a bowl of water and a hand or reusable rag.

Similarly, humans can purchase environmentally better forms of kitty litter.

These consist of a wide variety of products.

Typically, they are made from some organic product, such as wood pellets or processed paper products.

They function in a similar manner to clay kitty litter.

Moisture is soaked up and odours are absorbed.

Some of the materials have clumping properties, some do not.

Regrettably, none of the products clean the litter box themselves.

The real problem is the user of the kitty litter might not approve of what the human companion has chosen to fill the litter box.

This humble scribe has two little tigers on his hearthstone and they seem to be just as picky about what the human companion puts in their litter box as to they

type of food they will eat.

They are currently comfortable with a corncob-derived kitty litter product.

Those familiar with their toiletries will note the subtle irony.

In some parts of the world, corncobs are used by humans instead of toilet paper.

According to the packaging the corncob kitty litter is a renewable compostable resource.

The renewable aspect negates the need for clay based kitty litter, thus removing the need of a clay strip-mining operation somewhere on the planet.

Disposal is not easy to do in an environmentally responsible manner.

In Whitehorse do not add kitty litter, even if it says it is compostable, to the city compost pickup program.


feces can contain all sorts of unpleasant pathogens and there is the possibility not all will be destroyed during the composting process.

Place kitty litter in a sealed bag and put it in the garbage.

Kitty litter is not very environmentally friendly.

The least people can do is ensure the source is not an environmentally destructive kitty litter mine.

Lewis Rifkind is a Whitehorse based part-time environmentalist.