As many of my followers know, I live a zero-waste lifestyle as much as possible. I also am a huge animal lover, having 5 pets in a two-person studio apartment. I do my best to reduce my pets’ waste as well. However, before I get into this I want to emphasize that you should never risk the health of your pet in favor of having a zero-waste cat. It’s important to give your cat the best life possible, even if that means producing trash. That being said, I wanted to provide insight into how I reduce my cat’s waste.
Furniture (Litter box, trees, etc.)
Unfortunately, most of Dean’s things were purchased new. However, I searched for used items first. This isn’t a surprise, but used items are often cheaper as an added bonus. You can often find unique items too — I recently bought a litter box cover that doubles as a coffee table for only 15 dollars. Similar items online cost over 60, and as a bonus, this one was custom built and well taken care of.
The next best thing to buying used is buying something that isn’t packaged. Supporting local pet stores is also a nice bonus, as they often treat their animals better than big box stores and encourage adopting (depending on the store).
Now first, let’s make this clear. Your cat needs surfaces to scratch on, and places to crawl, cocoon, and climb. However, there are often alternatives. Shelves and furniture arrangements that allow cats access to high-up places can help reduce the number of cat trees in your life, thus reducing cost/waste. You can often get shelves and hanging supplies unpackaged at hardware stores, or even make your own out of wood. If you add a cozy surface on the shelves so that your cat’s scent can collect on it, you’ve got a great setup.
Many things around your home can likely be great cat toys already. For example, some of my cat’s favorite toys include hair ties, plastic milk rings (which are recyclable but we save some for him), scraps of cardboard, and thread bobbins. For small toys that could be dangerous if ingested like the milk rings and hair ties, we let him play but only under our supervision. Still, these make great toys. Dean is also a fan of loose fabric dragged across the ground and plastic shower rings.
Buying unpackaged toys from local pet stores is a great way to reduce your waste and support local businesses.
Make them yourself
Many simple cat toys can be made with not-too-complex methods, and there are numerous patterns and instructions to be found online. There is an added bonus if you live near a discard fabric store — at my local store, you can get scrap fabric (which is plenty large enough for most cat toys) for a dollar a bag. If you’re a crafter, it’s a great way to use up scrap fabric.
Buy from small creators
My last-resort method for cat toys is to support small, non-local creators. This isn’t ideal since you inevitably produce some packaging and the good must be transported to you, but it’s significantly better than buying super wasteful products. There are many great cat toy stores on Etsy which are all handmade, and most shops are very accommodating if you ask them to use minimal packaging and/or no plastic. Here’s one toy I’ve had my eye on for a while!
Wrap furniture legs in sisal string
There are several scratchers designed to wrap around a furniture leg. However, you can do this with much less waste by using a sisal string. Once your cat destroys the string, it’s totally biodegradable so you can toss it in the compost or bury it. It’s also cheaper and (in my opinion), looks much better.
Once again, buy an unpackaged scratching post at a local store! Support local businesses and reduce your waste. Opt for sisal for the same reason as above — additionally, it makes it easy to repair them. If your cat enjoys cardboard scratchers, opt for styles that can be refilled, such as boxes filled with cardboard strips like this one. Here’s a glue-free method of attaching the string from Reduced Style.
The same method as wrapping furniture legs can be used to repair a scratcher that’s been torn to shreds. I’ve even used to cover up damaged carpet scratchers. As I mentioned above, when the cardboard scratchers get torn to the point where your cat isn’t using it, with the right style it’s possible to refill it by cutting same-sized strips from your own cardboard and putting it back into the container. Here’s an article about it from Planet June.
Make them yourself
There are numerous do-it-yourself cat scratchers. Here’s a small collection of cool DIY scratchers.
Feed Less Beef and Seafood
Beef consumption isn’t great for the planet, and it’s been suggested that reducing the amount of beef and dairy that we consume could have a great impact on the planet. The same can be true for our cats. I avoid feeding my cat beef, though he gets it on special occasions since his favorite flavor of his food has beef in it. But by opting for less of it, we can reduce our cat’s climate impact.
I’m no expert on raw diets. I’m a vegetarian, and I’d love to have the guts to feed Dean raw, but I just can’t handle it personally. It’s a lot for me. That being said, here’s an article about the topic from Plants not Plastic. If you want to do this, do some serious research on it first. There are a diversity of opinions on the issue.
Buy wet food in cans, not pouches/plastic cups
Now, if you’re like me the raw food is too far. I personally feed my cat dry food in the morning and wet food at night. One simple fix is to buy wet food in an actual can rather than plastic pouches or cups. Although plastic cups are better than the pouches since they are more recyclable, metal recycling is even more efficient. If you’re interested in the efficiency of recycling, I highly recommend the latest recycling episode of Stuff You Should Know, which you can find here.
Reuse dry food bags
There are lots of ideas online on how to reuse dry food bags. This page from Thrifty Fun is filled with lots of ideas. I personally use our dry food bags for our trash can — although I’m nearly entirely zero waste, I still throw away a few things (dairy and other things I can’t compost in my setup, cat poop, etc) and while I’m zero waste, my partner is not and still produces trash.
Stay away from clay cat litter, even bulk clay cat litter
Yes, you can get cat litter in bulk. However, it’s almost always clay litter which is non-biodegradable and often mined using practices that aren’t safe for the environment. Additionally, it can be dangerous for your feline friends. You can read more about that here on Green Little Cat.
Make your own
There are several methods for making cat litter at home out of newspaper or using other materials as litter. As a college student in a tiny apartment, I don’t have the time, materials, or space for this, but if you do it’s a great option!
Opt for biodegradable cat litter
One of the most accessible solutions is to purchase biodegradable cat litter. I personally use World’s Best Cat Litter as it’s one of the only eco-friendly options available here (and Dean and I love it!), but there are lots of other options on the market which you can read more about here.
If you’re using biodegradable cat litter, you can compost it when your cat is done with it. However, do keep in mind that you can’t use the compost on or around food crops. For this reason, I can’t personally compost my cat litter. I only have one compost tumbler, and I use the compost on my herbs. Just don’t flush it!
Reuse the bag/recycle it if possible
Some types of cat litter do come in recyclable bags — check your local recycling website to find out if you can recycle it. I can’t, so I reuse the bags. I’ve previously mentioned using dry food bags in my trash can, and I do the same with litter bags. Many of the projects linked above for reusing dry food bags could also be done with litter bags.
Although cats come with a lot of extra work and trash, it doesn’t have to be this way. There are things we can do to reduce our pet’s waste without sacrificing their health or quality of life. Hopefully, as time goes on, companies make more eco-friendly options and recyclable packaging available for feline products. In the meantime, we can do the best we can.