As an environmentalist, I am constantly questioning the environmental impact of my everyday actions. Sometimes this leads to change, and sometimes it leads to more questions. My most recent dilemma was how to reduce the amount of trash I create. I used to track my trash generation when a Pay As You Throw (PAYT) policy came into effect, but I have become lax.
I decided to pick it back up again as I was hefting a heavy trash bag to the hopper at the Topsham Transfer Station. Looking through the contents of the clear PAYT bag, it was apparent that the heavy cat litter, which had settled in the bottom one-third of the bag, was a good place to start.
I decided to reexamine why I had chosen to use Swheat Scoop, a wheat-based cat litter. Like anything else, it has its pros and cons. I found that it clumps better than wood- or newspaper-based products, but has likely traveled farther to get there. I’d be curious to know more about the carbon footprint of the manufacturing process of these products, too. (I’ll save that for another sleepless night.) Yet, it’s a by-product that was going to be discarded anyway and now has a second life. I also think it is a better choice than clay-based products, which are mined. However, I do like the fact that you can refill your clay cat litter containers at the store.
Now, I don’t know much about other types of cat litters, but to me this stuff seems organic. There are no dyes, or crystals, or artificial ingredients. I think this should be compostable. I decided to ask Mark King, the Compost Coordinator at the Maine Department of Environmental Protection for his advice. He said that this material is not suitable for gardening but if kept for a year prior to use, to ensure that any parasites that can be found in cat feces are eliminated, it can be land spread. He suggests that it should be spread in the woods rather than on the lawn where you might walk in bare feet.
Great, I thought. I will just dig a hole, hoard it onsite and spread it in a year. But my husband thought otherwise and requested that I not dig a hole as it could contaminate a seasonal wet area nearby and suggested it be stored in an above-ground barrel. So, I asked the transfer station attendees to keep an eye out for a plastic barrel, which they found. It was a white, plastic 55+ gallon barrel with a spout on the bottom. It had been previously used to store soda concentrate. Funny thing is that once my husband saw the barrel, he wanted to use it for rain collection instead because of the spout, but its fate was sealed, for now.
We began collecting the cat litter, but quickly realized one barrel wouldn’t last us long. It was also getting heavy, and it wasn’t going to be easy to retrieve the litter from this tall barrel for land spreading. That is when I thought; why not ask if I can compost it at the transfer station? Perhaps their larger-scale operation could handle cat litter? The answer was no, but they did say I could throw it in the ash bin, the contents of which are used to fill in low areas on the site, kind of like the land spreading I was going to do, I guess.
While I am celebrating the fact that I am down to one trash bag every five weeks and have reduced the amount of waste I am sending to the landfill, I am still grappling with the carbon footprint associated with hauling my cat litter to the transfer station rather than walking it to my back yard. Perhaps I should toilet train my cats? Just kidding, but seriously, what is the carbon footprint associated with that?
—Guest blog by NRCM member Yvette Meunier