Can cat litter producers keep up with global sustainability demands?

New regulations, sustainability trends and trade wars are reshaping the litter segment. To find out the latest developments, PETS International conducted global research among 17 cat litter producers and interviewed expert Simon Luesing for in-depth insights.

Developments in Asia

In China there is a government drive to improve sustainability. In our interview, Simon Luesing from Cat Litter Company reflected that: “New Chinese government regulations are forcing manufacturers to become more sustainable and, as a result, many factories have been closed down.”

But demand must be met, and China is pressuring the industry to build new factories that meet the new requirements, like fully recycling water in the plant and restricting the use of oil and coal as sources of energy. These requirements have led to new certifications which have only been given to a limited number of factories in China that are allowed to export. 

But not only China is developing rapidly in terms of sustainability. Our survey results show that 60% of the respondents see ‘eco-friendliness’ as their speciality. And some of them have introduced sustainability plans to lower their carbon footprint. Reduce, reuse and recycle are the three key terms. Reduction of waste, reuse of raw materials and energy, and the recyclability of packaging materials all contribute to more sustainably produced cat litter. 

Meanwhile in Europe and North America… 

In Europe and North America there are similar developments. Cat litter producers surveyed here indicated that they are not waiting for government legislation. They are already close to having carbon-neutral facilities, producing their own heat, and reusing raw materials; from landfills for example. Both politicians and consumers are simply demanding a lower carbon footprint.

Traditional litters

As Simon Luesing says: “In the past, silica had a significantly higher carbon footprint. However, new restrictions on the use of coal and oil to heat up ovens have forced manufacturers to become more sustainable and reduce their carbon footprint.”

Cat litter made of bentonite is low cost and has a great absorbency. But the mining needed for this clay-based cat litter is somewhat controversial, as ecosystems often disappear to make way for the bentonite extraction. As bentonite is quite a heavy material, shipping costs also increase its carbon footprint. Bentonite is notorious for filling landfills, although there are some cat litter companies that focus on using landfill materials to produce new cat litter. 

Finding sustainable alternatives

Most of the litter survey respondents are currently focussing on finding sustainable alternatives based on the following key points: sourcing, health and safety, biodegradability, odour control, weight and absorbency. 

Reusing landfill

Creating a sustainable bio non-hazardous product for daily use is difficult. Wood, paper and corn have been popular sustainable sources in the past, but due to a worldwide shortage of wood and paper, and as corn is a food product for both humans and livestock, there is a growing shift towards alternatives. One of the respondents in the litter survey said they are giving landfill materials a second life as cat litter. 

Tofu cat litter

Cat litter made of tofu is a sustainable innovation that is already booming in Asia and now gaining momentum in Europe. Tofu cat litter is made of waste products from the production of tofu for human consumption. To create the litter, extra fine tofu powder is put under high pressure, resulting in very dense grains with a high absorption capability. Tofu cat litter producers are continuing to improve the product, and in recent years have adapted their drying methods, changing from the use of microwaves to ovens which are able to reduce the moisture level of the dried cat litter to 6%, reducing the risk of dangerous moulds and increasing shelf life. 

What can we expect?

As governments and consumers focus more and more on sustainability, cat litter producers are being forced to innovate and find more sustainable alternatives. Sustainability is no longer a want, but a need to survive. Most cat litter producers are fully aware of this and have put sustainability at the core of their organisation – making litter an intriguing sector to keep an eye on at the forefront of pet sustainability.

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Author

Benjamin de Niet

Marketing & Communication Executive, PETS International