Making sustainable choices in litter manufacture

The growing importance of making environmentally sound choices impacts the entire pet industry. What will eco-conscious consumers look for in cat litter as sustainability becomes even more critical?

Environmentally-minded pet parents

As the recent sustainability survey conducted by PETS International, Yummypets and the Pet Sustainability Council shows, sustainability is a significant factor in consumers’ choices when it comes to their pets. 

Over 80% of the pet parents surveyed stated that it is somewhere between ‘important’ and ‘extremely important’ that ‘pet companies help address global environmental problems’ (31% extremely important, 28% very important, 23% important, 15% somewhat important and 2% not at all important).

Grand View Research, Inc forecasts that the global cat litter products market will reach nearly $5 billion (€4.5 billion) by 2025, partly because with an increased knowledge of cat welfare and behaviour comes the understanding that even indoor/outdoor cats need indoor litter trays for when they do not feel safe, secure or comfortable going outside. 

Existing litter trends

While clumping litter currently dominates the market because of its convenience, the environmental impact is substantial. Generally made from sodium bentonite clay, the strip mining process needed to get the raw materials causes issues in terms of deforestation, soil erosion and polluted waterways, and that is before the process it goes through to become litter.

Despite it being a convenient option because of its clumping properties, the weight of clay litter is another negative point for many consumers. Disposing of such a heavy material in household bins can be inconvenient, in particular to those with multi-cat households and numerous litter trays to empty on a regular basis. 

Another popular litter material is silica gel, made from sand. It is similar to clay-based litter in terms of environmental impact, though the mining process is not quite as damaging and it is lighter and more absorbent. And as less is needed, less goes to landfill.

More sustainable options

Neither clay nor silica are renewable resources, and different types of litter made from more sustainable and biodegradable sources are becoming increasingly popular. Wood-based litter, either shavings or pellets and often by-products of the lumber industry, is a lightweight and more sustainable alternative, along with other plant-based materials such as corn kernels, recycled paper, and pine chips. 

The future of cat litter

It is difficult – to say the least – to get a completely sustainable litter. The risk of the Toxoplasma gondii parasite that can be present in cat faeces means that even biodegradable litter materials have to go to landfill, at least in part. 

But there are definitely steps manufacturers can take in the right direction by thinking carefully about the materials used, in terms of packaging as well as the litter itself. Getting the balance right between convenience (odour control plus easy scooping and disposal) and sustainability is key, and as more manufacturers embrace sustainability, the market will become more level.