5 Ways to Dispose of Cat Litter Without Plastic Bags

Reducing our plastic consumption is key to reducing our carbon footprint and stopping climate change. Unfortunately, cleaning our cat’s litter box creates a lot more plastic waste than most of us realize.

Here are five ways to dispose of cat poop without using plastic bags (or using a lot less):

  • Compost your cat litter.
  • Bury your cat’s waste.
  • Use biodegradable pet waste bags.
  • Repurpose non-recyclable plastics.
  • Use a litter disposal system.

The Problem with Plastic

Plastic waste on beach

Plastic consumption is a huge problem.

Single-use bags like grocery bags, trash bags, and pet waste bags are a big contributor.

When we send a plastic bag to the landfill, it can take up to 1000 years for it to decompose. The whole time, giving off harmful greenhouse gases like methane and carbon dioxide which contribute to climate change.

When synthetic plastic finally does decay, it doesn’t actually go anywhere. Tiny microplastics continue to exist, theoretically forever. These microplastics end up leaching into soil, water, and ultimately the food chain, where they can continue to have a negative impact on our ecosystem indefinitely.

And that’s not to mention the estimated 13 million tons of plastic waste that enter our oceans every year.

How to Dispose of Cat Poop Without (or with a lot less) Plastic

Scooping dirty cat litter into trash can

While many of these methods aren’t exactly plastic-free, there’s really no perfect solution for litter disposal. Balancing environmental-friendliness, safety and convenience is a tall order. But by adopting any of these changes, you’ll be reducing your carbon footprint (and your cat’s carbon pawprint).

1. Compost Your Cat’s Poop

Composting is our preferred method of truly plastic-free litter disposal.

By composting your cat’s waste, you’ll not only be reducing the amount of plastic and soiled litter clogging our landfills, you’ll be creating a nutrient-rich fertilizer that can be used to nourish ornamental plants and lawns.

But composting cat poop isn’t without downsides.

Cat feces sometimes contain Toxoplasma gondii, a harmful parasite that causes the disease Toxoplasmosis. Toxoplasma gondii poses a severe risk to expectant mothers, their unborn children, those with a weakened immune system, and some wildlife.

Unfortunately, the process of composting doesn’t always kill Toxoplasma gondii and, if not done properly, the parasite can be spread.

It’s important to handle compost containing cat poop safely and responsibly. And to avoid using on or near edible plant life, like fruits, vegetables, and herbs.

Before diving in, make sure you learn how to compost cat litter the right way.

2. Bury Your Cat’s Litter

Cat litter can be disposed of outside, but only when done so safely and responsibly.

Simply dumping cat litter outside is unsafe and often illegal. With rain, the waste will find its way to storm drains, creeks, or rivers, where it can spread harmful parasites and pathogens.

Person digging in dirt with shovel

To dispose of litter outside correctly, it must be buried. But it’s not realistic for everyone.

Your property must be large enough to find a burial site far from edible plant life and water sources (like wetlands, streams, ponds, and storm drains). Avoid burying pet waste near someone else’s property or near structures, like houses, fences, and sheds.

The soil must support greenery. Pet waste buried in desert or arctic climates won’t degrade properly.

You must use a biodegradable, additive-free cat litter, like wood pellets, paper, or wheat. You should never bury clay or crystal cat litter.

To bury litter, simply dig a hole at least ten inches deep, fill with litter, and immediately cover with dirt. Soiled litter and waste can be stored in a sealed container until you’ve accumulated enough to justify burying.

3. Use a More Eco-Friendly Bag

This is likely the easiest method on this list, though admittedly not as beneficial as those above.

Biodegradable, plant-based pet waste bags are becoming increasingly more common. The bad news is that while these bags are better for the environment, they’re still not good for it.

Even biodegradable bags have a tough time decomposing in the tightly-packed, anaerobic conditions of most landfills. But when they do finally break down, at least they’re not spreading harmful microplastics into our soil and water.

Cat litter can also be disposed of in paper bags or wrapped in newspaper. Paper biodegrades faster than biodegradable bags, but again, not very quickly in a landfill. Plus, you’re sending paper to the landfill instead of recycling it.

And finally, recycled plastic bags are a tertiary option. While still plastic, they take 88% less energy to produce than those made from raw materials. Look for bags made from ‘100% post-consumer recycled products’.

4. Repurpose Non-Recyclable or Difficult to Recycle Plastics

You can limit your plastic consumption by choosing reusable grocery totes or by opting for paper bags when available. But it’s difficult to completely avoid bringing single-use plastics home.

Empty cereal bags, potato chip bags, and empty cat food bags are just a few of the many plastics that often can’t be put in a curbside recycling bin.

Recycle or repurpose?

Many of these plastics are actually recyclable, just not in your standard curbside pickup recycling program. Learn which can be recycled and repurpose the rest.

But these plastics can still be of use. Fill them with litter before tossing them in the trash. These plastics are making their way to the landfill already. Let them serve a purpose on their way.

While this method isn’t technically plastic-free, it still reduces the number of bags being consumed. After all, the primary goal is to help reduce the creation of new plastic.

5. Limit Plastic with a Litter Disposal System

Person removing bag from cat litter disposal system

Litter disposal systems are odor and bacteria-sealing receptacles that store pet waste until it can be taken out with the trash.

Because they seal odor so well, you won’t need to empty until the multi-gallon capacity is full. Which, in turn, can significantly reduce the amount of plastic used per litter box cleaning.

The Litter Champ, for example, has a continuous, biodegradable liner. Continuous meaning you’ll only ever use as much liner as is needed — no wasted material.

The bad news is that the standard biodegradable liners are still made of plastic. Just plastic treated with an additive that makes it break apart much faster than a standard plastic bag.

There are third-party biodegradable alternatives. And most will still work with any appropriately-sized, biodegradable bag of your choosing.

A Quick Note on Flushing

When trying to go plastic-free with my cat litter routine, my first thought was, “why not just flush the litter? That’s what I do with my own waste.”

Unfortunately, many wastewater treatment plants aren’t equipped to handle cat waste. When flushed, Toxoplasma gondii can enter waterways, where it can spread to vulnerable humans and wildlife.

It’s not recommended that you flush cat waste or cat litter, especially if you live in a coastal area.

Summary

Sustainable habits in pet care routines are an often overlooked way of going green.

Reducing our carbon footprint through sustainable litter disposal takes a little effort, but the combined impact could be huge.

Doing some quick napkin math — with an estimated 95.6 million household cats in the US alone, and estimating that each household uses seven plastic bags per week for litter, there are nearly thirty-five billion plastic bags being consumed each year for cat waste alone. That’s a lot of plastic entering our landfills, and eventually our soil, water, and food.

Sources

About Matthew Alexander

Matthew lives in Maryland with his two cats, Puff and Pancho. He’s been caring for and fostering cats with various special needs for more than fifteen years. He hopes to pass some of the insight and knowledge that he’s gained on to the readers of Pawmore.