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Biodegradable Cat Litter and Waste: How to Discard It

I have six cats and seven boxes; here are several options I've tried, plus one expert's advice.

Catherine Holm  |  Apr 22nd 2016


I love biodegradable cat litter. I won’t name the brand I use, but many cat people I know (including my vet) like it. (To learn more, read Catster’s Review of 5 Nontraditional Cat Litters.) I love knowing that my cats aren’t breathing clay dust, and also that the material breaks down in nature. I like saving space in the landfill by taking care of the cat litter myself. It saves money too. Living in a rural area, my husband and I haul our own trash to the dump, and we have to pay by the bag.

However, the cat litter needs a little help breaking down on its own. It’s compounded when you have multiple cats, as I do. With six cats and seven boxes, used litter can build up pretty quickly. If you don’t want to throw it all away with your garbage, you have some options, depending on where you live. Here are some.

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Cat with flowers in the garden by Shutterstock.com.

1. Dump it in the woods

If you have some land, you might be able to dump it out of sight and hope that it breaks down. This could be the laziest option, and I tried it, thinking the biodegradable litter would break down. But it needs some help, and even being exposed to the snow, rain, and sun doesn’t move the process as quickly as I would like. Caveat: Do not dump cat (or dog) feces anywhere near a vegetable garden, and do not use tools to handle these wastes that you might also use in your veggie garden. More on that below.

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Cat in garden by Shutterstock

2. Bury it

I’m considering this next. It might break down faster in closer contact with the soil. I’ve not tried this, but it reminds me a bit of wilderness camping  — the practice of burying your own waste when no toilets are available. As you would when camping, locate the burial place safely away from a water source. Again, do not bury it anywhere near edible vegetables or fruits that you might grow in your garden.

3. Compost it

This intrigues me: biodegradable litter and waste as something good for your flower (but ONLY your flower) garden. If you try it, use a compost bin, pile, or pit in the ground. Again, use this compost only for nonedible plant life, and if you compost other material for your veggie garden, compost it separately. Follow the practices of composting — turn the pile, add browns (for example, dry leaves) and greens (such as grass clippings). Some people add water if the weather has been dry. Make sure that flower gardens where you apply this compost are well away from any vegetable gardens or fruit trees you harvest.

I also spoke with composting expert Bruno Welsh of Compost RVA in Richmond, Virginia, who recommends adding double-shredded hardwood mulch to ensure there’s plenty of carbon material to add to your potentially pathogenic mixture of litter.

“Add coffee grounds for good measure to mitigate possible smell and speed up the composting process,” Welsh says.

Again, keep this away from a garden that provides food for your family. Cat feces contain parasites that are harmful when ingested by humans, and composting will not break these down. (For the same reason, don’t encourage your cat to poop in your veggie garden.) Have separate tools for each compost pile (so you don’t contaminate tools that might then be used in the vegetable garden), or repeatedly sterilize the tools. This seems time consuming, and it’s difficult to sterilize tools without creating rust.

4. Flushing (not for me)

I don’t recommend flushing biodegradable cat litter and feces, even if the manufacturer says that it’s okay. We have a septic system, and I believe the litter and animal feces could put strain on the system resulting in clog or backup. I can’t imagine it would be good for a municipal sewer system, either.

I really just want to be able to enjoy the fact that the litter biodegrades. Biodegradability is a good thing, even when the litter ends up in the landfill.

If you use a biodegradable cat litter, how do you discard it? Tell us in the comments.