How to Be Zero Waste With a Cat

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cat living zero waste lifestyle

Are you a cat owner? You’ve probably noticed by now certain items for your cat come in plastic or wasteful packaging. But what if I told you reducing your cat’s waste was possible? It may be hard to eliminate it completely, but you can certainly still learn how to be zero waste with a cat. Here’s what you need to know.

How To Be Zero Waste With A Cat – Table of Contents

  1. Think About Their Diet
  2. Don’t Forget Treats
  3. Eco-Friendly Cat Litter
  4. Sustainable Cat Toys
  5. Thrift For What You Can’t Buy

1. Think About Their Diet

First off, it’s important to know right off the bat – cats are obligate carnivores. And there’s no changing that. So, I’m not here to argue whether or not cats could survive on a vegan diet.

Taking away a cat’s meat is not only unhealthy for them, but also violates their rights. Their bodies are not biologically the same as us – they need it to live.

With that said, I do know there are things you can do to lessen the impact of your kitty’s diet on the planet. For starters, you can choose chicken products over beef. 

Producing a pound of beef takes significantly more resources than producing a pound of chicken. In fact, it takes about 1,800 gallons of water to produce one pound of beef.

So always opt for chicken over beef products for your kitty.

More specifically, in terms of waste, lots of dry cat food and treats come in plastic lined paper bags. This makes it neither recyclable or biodegradable. 

You may actually be able to find package-free cat food at a bulk food store or pet store. You’ll have to bring your own container or bag to the store and fill it up.

This, of course, only applies to dry food. Also, be sure to check what’s in these package-free pet foods – quality of ingredients is still important, and you want to feed your kitty what’s good for them.

Perhaps your best option is to cook your cat’s food at home, using whole foods.

If you have time, simply boil two spoonfuls of either chicken breast, liver, ground turkey or beef hearts in a pot. Then you can feed it directly to your cat. They’ll even eat the meat broth so there’s no waste. You can also feed them tuna straight out of the can!

If you have no time to cook for your kitty, consider buying cat food brands that are locally sourced, organic, and/or have thoughtful packaging. Even better if it checks off all three! 

You can also see if your cat’s pet food brand has the ability to be recycled through Terracycle. Certain pet food brands, like Open Farm, Royal Canine, and Wellness Pet Food have partnered with Terracycle to offer take-back options for your empties.

Getting wet food is always a good option for your zero waste cat because it’s often packaged in aluminum cans which is easier to recycle than the plastic lined paper bags. However, you should still look for better ingredients whenever possible in cans as well, like Purina Beyond and Tender & True.

If these options don’t work for you, try to upcycle your pet food bag. You can use it to store compost, a garbage can liner, or kid’s toys. 

2. Don’t Forget Treats

In regards to cat treats, try to buy them in bulk if your pet store sells them package free.

Don’t forget to bring your own container. This will help reduce waste as much as possible. If that’s not an option, you can make homemade treats from scratch.

Try this 3 ingredient treat recipe using just salmon, egg and flour.  Or these carrot and catnip treats. There are so many DIY cat treat recipes on the internet so be sure to give it a looksee for yourself.

3. Eco-Friendly Cat Litter

There are lots of waste to reduce the waste your cat’s litter box makes. For starters, if you’re in need of a new one, choose one that’s not made out of plastic, but stainless steel. These will last forever and won’t smell nearly as bad as the plastic ones do over time. Plastic tends to retain funky odors, after all. And it leeches toxins over time!

Also, for scooping up the poop, I recommend investing in a large, high-quality metal scooper. You’ll notice the difference between this and a flimsy plastic scooper any day, for sure. Plus, metal can be recycled infinitely as opposed to plastic – and it certainly won’t break. 

As far as contents of the litter box, you can actually use sawdust, mulch or newspapers in the litter box. They’re all compostable. I recommend slowly transitioning to this over time to give your kitty time to adjust. The last thing you want is them freaking out and doing their business somewhere else (ahem, living room carpet). 

Believe it or not you can get mulch, dirt and sawdust package free from your local landscaping store. Some people will give it away for free online as well, like on Craigslist or Facebook marketplace. 

To reduce odors in these kinds of litter boxes, just add baking soda. And make sure to maintain it – because that’s when the odors really start to hit hard – an unchecked litter box. 

If you switch over to this method, you’ll actually be able to compost the cat litter, but not with your other compostables. You’ll have to make a specific compost bin for this, and be sure to keep it away from your edible veggie or fruit garden. This will help ensure the poop breaks down over time. You can use the compost once it’s ready, but only use it on ornamental plants to air on the safe side. Trees, shrubs, lawn and flowers are all safe bets.  

Live in an apartment, or don’t have the means to compost on your own? Check to see if your city’s compost program accepts animal waste – some might. 

I recommend putting the cat poop into a biodegradable cat poop bag, especially if you plan on composting it. Plastic bags don’t have the best eco footprint, and you want to avoid using them because they won’t break down in a compost pile. 

For those with no access to composting, or natural litter options, try buying your litter in bulk or purchase it in recyclable packaging. Pet stores, like Petco, usually will let you purchase clay litter in bulk. There are also some litter options that come in cardboard containers and paper bags – these can easily be added to compost or recycled.

4. Sustainable Cat Toys

Lots of cat toys on the market are made from some form of plastic, be it rigid plastic or polyester fabric. This is not exactly safe for your furry friend to digest, nor are these toys biodegradable at the end of their life. I can also imagine how ripped cat toys could spread microplastics and microfibers everywhere. 

The best option is to use what you have already and get creative with the toys you give your cat. Chances are, it won’t take much to keep them entertained. You can take an old cotton shirt, rip it up a bit and attach it to a stick – cats will have a blast chasing after it. 

Other ideas for DIY or natural cat toys include:

  • Pinecones
  • Cardboard boxes
  • Scrap wood and rope scratching post
  • Toilet or paper towel rolls
  • Cardboard egg cartons
  • (Real) feathers
  • Cardboard hide and seek toy (using a cardboard box and scissors)
  • Old t-shirt toys (just cut shirt into 3 inch by 10 inch rectangles + tie them into knots)
  • Wine cork toy (soften the wine cork by boiling them, make a hole in, then glue in a feather or jute – wait for it to dry before giving it to your kitty)
  • Treat-filled toilet paper rolls (make sure the ends are folded in – they’ll have to work to get it open!)

If DIY isn’t your thing, you can choose to purchase from brands that are plastic-free and sustainable. 

Friendsheep Wool sells organic catnip in a reusable metal tin. They also sell eco wool pet toy balls that are leaping bunny certified, handmade, and compostable at the end of their life. I can picture cats being entertained with them for hours, especially if you sprinkle a little cat nip on ‘em! 

Boba & Vespa and Honest Pet Products also sell eco-friendly pet toys for cats. 

Boba & Vespa cat toys are made from hemp, organic cotton, organic catnip and crinkly buckwheat hulls. They come in unique animal shapes like snakes and sting rays and they’re completely compostable at the end of their life.

Honest Pet Products are made in the USA out of biodegradable materials like natural wool, hemp and catnip. They sell toys like kitty pouncers that let cats hone their instincts and eco kitty catchers you can dangle in front of cats so they have something to swat at.

5. Thrift For What You Can’t Buy

Sometimes thrift stores will actually sell pet products like bowls, toys, leashes, litter boxes and collars. Secondhand is great for the environment because it gives something a second life and keeps it out of a landfill. 

If you have a thrift store near you, hit it up and see what you can find. You might be surprised. 

You can also ask friends who own cats (if you have any) for hand-me-downs, so to speak. Maybe they have a pet bowl they don’t use any longer and would be happy to part with? Ask around first before buying to save money and keep something in use. 

Are you trying to be zero waste with a cat? Drop your tips below in the comments! 

About the Author: 

Ariana Palmieri is the founder of Greenify-Me, a blog dedicated to zero waste living and sustainability. Her work has been featured on Going Zero Waste, Mother Earth Living, Green Matters and several other publications. Get her free e-book “10 Ways to Reduce Trash” by signing up to her newsletter and learn how to reduce your waste today.

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