Dear Umbra,

I recently adopted a cat, and I am having a hard time deciding what to do with the kitty litter. Is there some kind of green litter that is best to use? Anything flushable and sewage-tank friendly? Or, can I compost the litter — and what should I use to cover it up with?

Kate Graves
Nashville, Tenn.

Dearest Kate,

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Just as our eco-children can be diaper-free, it appears our cats can be litter-free. Teach your kitty to use the toilet! Tutorials and tips await you on the internet, and Grist staffers have confirmed that this seemingly bonkers notion works. If you undertake this monumental task and succeed, no cat hater will ever be able to impugn your cat’s intelligence.

Think outside the box.

Should you choose to stick with the litter box, please eschew clay. Bentonite clay is strip-mined to make cat litter, which is not only destructive to the natural environment, but ridiculous. We strip mine for cat poop? As far as other materials go, I don’t understand why wood shavings from a nearby carpenter wouldn’t work just as well as store-bought litters — and I don’t need to know — but today’s cat owner has a wide choice of recycled-paper and wood options. I’d go for one of the recycled-content types. By the way, adding our favorite magic ingredient, baking soda, can help you keep things fresher longer, and therefore use less litter.

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How to get rid of it, you ask? Most knowledgeable folks recommend flushing the actual poop — though if you have a septic tank, garbage may be a better choice — and then tightly bagging the litter to send to the landfill. Check with your town’s solid-waste agency for more details.

There is also another option, which I won’t even explain until I say this: Cats can carry the disease toxoplasmosis and pass it on to us via oocysts (a dormant stage of the disease) in their feces. This disease can be fatal to infants and immune-system-deficient adults, and make the rest of us sick. Do not handle cat poop if you are pregnant, and don’t let small children do it either. Wash your hands thoroughly after handling cat poop, no matter who you are.

That said, you can compost your catbox contents! Use a separate container from your other compost. It doesn’t need to be fancy — a small trash can with holes in the bottom and a tight lid will be fine. Just put the soiled litter in, and after all the poop has been in there anaerobically composting for over a year, spread it on your ornamental plants. Or you can bury fresh feces in a foot-deep hole, though not within 100 feet of a water source. Do not put fresh or composted cat poop in your vegetable garden. And if you have kids playing in your yard, I wouldn’t do any of this.

By the way, reading more than one poop letter makes me ill, as I learned with dog-poop scooping. If you cat owners have something to share — and I know you do — please do your business in Gristmill. Thanks.


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