Over the past two years, I’ve been actively trying to figure out how to have a zero waste cat. Things like buying cat food in bulk, deciding if I should even care about compostable litter, researching the best cat poop bags, and so much more to think about.
On top of all these considerations, there’s a constant balance of providing the greatest care for my cats’ well-being with the desire to live more zero-waste.
As with most zero-waste guidance, the key theme of my recommendations is to minimize waste by buying in bulk, always think with a “multi-purpose” mindset, and invest in high-quality products (to last a cat-lifetime). After everything that I’ve learned so far, here are my best tips for how to live zero waste with cats!
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Zero-Waste Cat Food
Buy Cat Food in Bulk
When purchasing cat food, the ideal zero waste option is to buy a bulk bag of dry cat food. Some people have commented that it still comes in a hard-to-recycle plastic bag and lament there not being a bulk store selling cat food.
I think it’s important to remember that transporting bulk items to the bulk store entails transporting these items in a similar bag too. People too easily assume that because they use a refillable container to buy from a bulk store, this is zero waste whereas buying a bulk size product is not zero waste.
They are the same.
The benefit of a bulk store is to benefit from the individual portions that you can take of bulk-sized products (not having to store the bulk sizes in your home).
Wellness is a quality brand that I’ve used when I first got my kitties for a very reasonable price. Open Farm is an amazing brand that also focuses on the humane treatment of its farm animals and the sustainability of its fish. They are the two dry food brands that I can currently recommend because they have actively partnered with TerraCycle to make their bags recyclable.
Tip: upcycle a large food container to have easy access to your cat food without making the entire bag stale. Not my smarter purchase, but I use my empty cheese ball containers for daily access to my cat’s food. I’ll fill up this container so I can seal the bulk bag up.
Roll out all the excess air out of the bag, fold a few layers down, then clip it with a binder clip. This method keeps the food super fresh because a 15lbs of cat food lasts a long time!
If you don’t have random cheese ball containers lying around, I used to use something like this in my old apartment. Super easy to serve food with an easy-pour lid.
Recycle Pouches of Wet Cat Food
Not zero waste either, but if your cat is more of a fan of wet food, you can consider the Weruva brand. This brand includes Cats In The Kitchen and Best Feline Friends (B.F.F.). They have so many creative flavors too so if you buy a variety box, your cat’s culinary palette will not be bored!
Weruva has also partnered with TerraCycle so you can request a free mail-in envelope with which to send back your empty food pouches.
Homemade Cat Food
Alternatively, you can try making your own but note that it’s a delicate balance to obtain the proper mix of ingredients for vitamin and nutrition. If homemade cat food is your goal, I highly encourage you to speak with a veterinarian or a qualified feline nutritionist because if your cat develops medical problems from nutritional deficiency, you’ll be creating much more waste trying to heal your cat.
Buy Double-Duty Treats
My absolute favorite treat to feed both my cats and dog are bonito flakes. Bonito flakes are shaved pieces of dried fish commonly used in Japanese cuisine. You can get ones labeled as “cat bonito flakes,” but they are the same as the human bonito flakes, except more expensive so I’d recommend this one to get the best value for your money.
Just make sure the ingredients are 100% bonito, with no added salt, smoke, or preservatives. The great thing about bonito flakes is that if either my cats, dog or I (unlikely) stop liking bonito flakes, it won’t go to waste. The other ones will gobble it up with delight!
If you’re purchasing commercial treats in packaging, I’d recommend getting treats that at least serve double-duty. Instead of just getting treats for a tasty snack with added calories, the cat treat should also function to improve the cat’s health in some way.
Natural Treats for Cats
One of my favorite new finds are these wooden dental sticks for cats. It’s a completely natural chew made from basically an Asian-version of catnip. If your cat is a catnip aficionado, they might also like this zero-waste dental treat.
Share a Meal
As a zero-packaging cat treat, I’ve also started sharing my meals with my cat. When I occasionally prepare meats for myself, I will scoop out two spoonfuls of raw meat and boil it separately.
I’ve done this with chicken breast, beef hearts, liver, and ground turkey. Cook this in around 1/8 cup water and you have a tasty and healthy treat for your zero waste cat. By the way, don’t throw out the broth it simmers in – that’s their favorite part.
If I am opening a can of tuna for myself, I’ll also scoop out a tiny portion for them as well. Just make sure you buy the tuna packed in water with no salt (no salt is better for you anyway).
This way, you get to share a meal with your cats =D and there is no extra packaging.
Tap Water For the Whole Family
With humans and with pets, tap water should be perfectly sufficient to satisfy your thirst. If you’re concerned, you can test your tap water here. There might be some contaminants in it, but understand that tap water needs to be tested for safety within acceptable limits whereas bottled water doesn’t even have to be tested!
I recommend purchasing two stainless steel bowls and washing them daily with your dishes. Your local thrift shop should also have these available. I usually don’t buy pet products secondhand because one of my cats will mark things if he senses another cat’s scent, but bowls are washable and scentless, so is perfect to source second-hand.
If you’re concerned about chlorine, you can either set aside a jug of water and let the chlorine (a gas) evaporate naturally, you can heat up your water to speed evaporation, or you can get something similar to a charcoal filter.
If you are worried that your cats might not be drinking enough water (this is important to prevent urinary tract infections and other health problems), you should consider getting a drinking fountain like the iPettie Ceramic Lotus Fountain.
Some people opt for drinking fountains as moving water is believed to encourage cats to drink more. The only problem I have with these is that most people do not clean them properly, or within the time frame recommended to replace the water and/or the filter. The second issue I have is with the ones made out of plastic as I believe most of them are low-quality and difficult to clean.
The one I recommend is made of ceramic. The water should be completely replaced twice a week and the filters should be changed every two weeks (~$5 / month). The filters are made of BPA-free plastic so this is not technically a zero-waste solution.
Zero Waste Cat Litter: Buy Cat Litter in Bulk
Everyone has to respond to nature’s call and cats are no exception. Litter and cat-waste management are tough issues because there is no perfect answer.
When I lived in Los Angeles, I had a courtyard so I would let my cats roam around. Many times, they would not need to use the litter box at home because they finished their business somewhere outdoors. This was certainly a benefit for me and I thought it was so great that they were able to go naturally, but I realize now this might not be the best course of action considering potential parasites in cat feces that can flow into the sewers and contaminate the water streams.
Being Aware of Toxoplasma Gondii
Toxoplasma gondii is a single-celled parasite that can live in almost every animal including humans, but strangely, can only sexually reproduce within cats. For 1-2 weeks after the initial infection, a cat will release these parasites in its feces and these have the potential to infect other animals. If my cats were infected and some other animal consumed (intentionally or unintentionally) the feces during its 2 week contamination period, it could infect many other animals, continuing the parasite’s life.
However, litter is not quite a clear answer either.
Many people may jump to the conclusion that to dispose of cat feces, we should just use our existing waste-management system: we flush human poo down the toilet to be treated, why not do the same with cat poo?
The problem again comes back to the Toxoplasma gondii parasite. These tough little things are not killed by our traditional sewage treatment process so will flow into our open waters and contaminate our sea life (i.e. dolphins, sea otters, etc.)! 🙁
So the best solution to cat poo is using a litter box system. But which litter is best for a zero-waste lifestyle?
Buying Cat Litter in Bulk
If you’re looking to be more eco-friendly with your zero-waste pursuits, you must consider a natural cat litter for the litterbox. Avoid clay and silica-based litters as they are harmful to the health of you, your pets, and the planet. Cat litter is rarely sold in bulk bins within stores (and if they are, the store is most likely just filling the bins out of packaged product).
As with food, the best solution (aside from making it on your own), is to purchase the largest available size. This is my absolute favorite litter (print a $2 coupon here). At 28lbs, one bag lasts me 3 months with my two cats (this is my personal measurement; the bag actually advertises “60+ days”). It’s a great value for my money and it’s the most effective litter I’ve tried.
This is the litter that I’ve been using for the last 4 years. I’ll occasionally try out different types just to see if there’s a better product out there (I’ve tried organic clay, wood pellets, and bamboo pellets in the last year). However, it seems that World’s Best Cat Litter is simply the world’s best cat litter, in my opinion.
It clumps as well as clay so when I scoop up a ball of cat pee, sometimes I’m even surprised how perfectly spherical the clump turned out. Compared to clay, it’s a lot lighter in weight and more environmentally-friendly because it is made of corn. It emits very little dust and absorbs smells well. I don’t like the lavender scent (purple) bag, but I’m a bit fan of the red and green bags that I’ve tried.
Must-Have Litter Accessories
Recommended Litter Mat: A Black Hole Mat Is A Game-Changer!
The only (minor) issue I have with my litter (and all litters) is that since the corn kernels are relatively light, it is prone to a bit of tracking. This is why it is integral (and a total cat-game changer) that you pair your litter box with a Blackhole Litter Mat!!
Regardless of what kind of litter you use, you should definitely invest in a good litter mat. I’ve seen so many hardwood floors ruined from sliding something over stray clay litter and causing scratch marks in the floor, or finding lighter litter has tracked onto your bed!
This mat is great because it is comprised of a two-layer system whereby stray litter gets trapped between the two layers. The top layer has small holes for the litter to fall through and prevent tracking throughout your home. The bottom layer catches the litter until you easily dump out the accumulated litter every once in a while.
Alternatively, you could sweep or vacuum your floor twice a day, but who wants to do that!
Recommended Litter Box: Non-Plastic Cat Litter Box
If you are looking for a plastic-free litter box, I have the perfect one for you that is made of stainless steel. This litter box is super easy to clean because it has non-stick properties. At six inches deep, you don’t have to worry too much about your cats kicking litter out when trying to cover their business. However, I notice there is no lower “entry-way” so older or less agile cats might not like such a high border.
If I ever have to get a new litter box, I’m definitely getting this non-plastic cat litter box. This is my current litter box, which I got for the second time. I had to get rid of my first one when I moved from LA to Amsterdam. I bought it again because it was good quality, super easy to wash, it had high borders with a lower step-thru, and I did not know I had the option of a non-plastic litter box!
Best Litter Box Scooper: Large and Sturdy
When I purchased my litter box, it came with a small plastic scooper. It was so irritating and inefficient to scoop the litter and if I accidentally dropped a clump of litter (because of the small size) while trying to sift the clean litter aside, the clump would crumble and ruin some more of the clean litter. This resulted in the whole batch of litter getting soiled more and having to replace the contents more quickly.
Once I replaced it with a high-quality, large, metal scooper, I noticed a huge difference and dare I say I enjoyed cleaning the litter just a little bit more.
Subscribe and Save
Another key tip to being more eco-friendly with your litter is to add it to Amazon’s Subscribe and Save program.
It’s no secret that 1-day and 2-day shipping, while super convenient for the buyer, is not great for the planet. When a product is guaranteed for a certain time frame, trucks might have to be sent out for their delivery route before they’re full, products might not be shipped from the optimal location, and basically, you’re not taking advantage of the full distribution system’s maximum efficiency.
The reason Amazon can provide you a 5%/15% discount for Subscribe and Save is that they require you to confirm your order a week in advance and they can ship your order with the most efficiency for your target delivery date.
Best Way to Dispose of Cat Poop
Using Cat Poop Bags
The most common way to clean a litter box is to scoop the solids and the clumps out into plastic grocery bags or dog poop bags. This is probably the easiest method, but to scoop out the litter into a plastic bag every day clearly uses a lot of plastic bags – something that we should be trying to reduce/remove altogether.
If you do this, consider at least using biodegradable bags instead of a normal plastic bag. And don’t be tricked by improper marketing! There’s a night and day difference between oxo-biodegradable (ASTM 6954) and biodegradable (ASTM 6400) even if they are both labeled “biodegradable!
If you’re using bags to clean up your cat poop, this article ranking the most eco-friendly poop bags by type might be useful to you!
Eco-Friendly Cat Waste Disposal: Collection Container
If you think it’s wasteful to use a plastic cat poop bag every day to clean your cat’s litter, consider using a larger litter collection container as an alternative way of disposing of cat poop. The problem with normal trash cans is that the litter accumulates in the container so that the next time you open the lid, horrendous smells waft up into your nose! That’s not the case with this litter collection container.
It’s comprised of a two-part system: the bottom part collects the soiled litter and the top part is where you add your “fresh” soiled litter. The two parts are separated by a divider so the smell of stewed litter does not dissipate out when you’re cleaning the litter box.
One of the best things about these containers is that the “bag” is literally just one continuous plastic tubing so it’s kind of like a choose-your-size bag. When you are ready to dispose of your current collection of litter, you simply (i) tie a knot to close the top off, (ii) snip the current bag off from the end of the continuous roll, and (iii) tie a knot to form the bottom of your new bag. Easy peasy.
With two cats, I tie off a new bag once every two weeks.
How to Dispose of Cat Litter Without Plastic Bags: Cat Poop Compost
However, if you are trying to figure out how to clean the litter box without plastic bags, you should try your hand at composting! To achieve a true zero waste litter box, you will need to use a compostable litter and turn your cat poo into nutrients for plants! Composting works well if you have access to a dedicated composting bin or area dedicated to composting.
An important thing to note is that you should not mix pet waste in with your general food waste as the resulting fertilizer from pet waste cannot be used in or near food-bearing plants or near water sources. The EnsoPet system created by Bokashi is simple to use and is hidden right in the ground.
Note that this solution is best utilized if you have access to an outdoor space. If you use this method, please ensure you also use a compostable cat litter.
Zero Waste Lint Roller
I’ve heard jokes where people say their favorite color must be ‘cat hair’ because they’re always wearing it. It’s funny because it’s unfortunately true. Despite your best attempts at FURminating your kitties and vacuuming on a regular basis, you’ll still somehow find cat hair everywhere!
- Removing Fur from Furniture and Other Large Surfaces: ChomChom Roller
- Removing Fur from Your Clothes: Velvet Lint Brush
The ChomChom roller is an amazing and environmentally-friendly way of removing pet hair from large surfaces. You need to apply a reasonable amount of pressure though so it does not work well with clothes.
The velvet lint brush is useful because brush one way it will pick up pet hair; brush the other way and the hair comes off the brush. Both are good solutions for living zero waste with a cat.
Some other clever tips for removing pet hair without a lint roller include using common household tools like damp hands or vinegar!
Zero Waste Cat Toys
There are so many different toys marketed to cats, but from my experience, they are super happy with even the most random things.
I know I’m guilty of falling for how cute a specific cat toy and wanting to “gift” it to my cat. The reality is, your cat doesn’t care about cute. From my experience, my cats’ favorite toys include cardboard boxes, green beans, random stuffing that comes out of a toy that my dog ripped apart, an old shoelace, and a ribbon that I don’t even remember where it came from.
Give a second life to some of your household products – a zero waste win, I’d say! Soon you’ll be thinking to yourself as you’re changing the toilet paper roll, “hmm, I wonder if my cat will like to play with this”…
If you’re not a “small item” hoarder like me 😉 or don’t like to see pieces of shredded toilet paper rolls lying around the house, here is a cool list of eco-friendly, zero-waste cat toys that I love telling people about.
Save Your Furniture From Scratches
A non-necessity, but if you want to delight your cat, consider investing in a high-quality cat tree. From ones made of untreated wood to ones that can be folded away, to super high-quality ones where you can replace each part if it gets damaged, there’s a perfect cat tree for everyone. While not technically a necessity in the cat world, it might be a good investment to protect your furniture.
Cardboard Scratch Post
If a cat tree is too large for your home, consider getting a cardboard scratch post if you don’t want your cats to not scratch your furniture! I’m a big fan of the infinity cardboard cat lounger, and so are 6,000+ other customers apparently. I’m also a fan of Cardboard Safari because they have super creative cardboard furniture and decor (a sustainable interior design option!).
Do you have a Zero Waste Cat?!
Did I miss any of your must-have products? Do you have a better zero-waste solution for any of these categories? Let me know!
For more zero-waste cat tips and tricks, follow my Cat board on Pinterest! Also, save the pin below to keep referring back to this checklist as your cat gets more and more zero-waste!