Cat Litter. Is It Trash or Recycling?


Cat litter is an essential product for cat ownership, helping to keep cats and homes clean. However, when it comes time to dispose of used cat litter, many cat owners are unsure of the proper way to do so. Cat litter can have environmental impacts if not disposed of correctly, so it’s important for cat owners to understand the best disposal methods.

This article provides an overview of cat litter disposal, examining the different types of cat litters, their environmental impact, recycling options, disposal laws, best practices, and litter box hygiene. The goal is to inform cat owners on responsible litter disposal that avoids landfill waste.

Types of Cat Litters

There are several main types of cat litter on the market today:

Clay Litters

Clay cat litter is one of the most popular options. This type of litter is made from bentonite clay and is known for its excellent odor control. The clumping variety forms clumps when wet, allowing you to scoop out just the soiled portions. However, some concerns with clay litter are dust and tracking it around the home (Eight Different Types of Cat Litter).

Clumping Litters

Clumping litters form solid clumps when wet. This allows you to remove the soiled areas and leave behind fresh litter. Most clumping litters today are made from clay, but you can also find clumping varieties made from materials like pine, wheat, and corn. Clumping litters make cleaning the litter box easier, but some cats may ingest the clumps, creating potential health hazards (The Ultimate Guide To Different Types of Cat Litter).

Natural and Biodegradable Litters

Natural and biodegradable litters provide an eco-friendly alternative to clay. They are made from materials like pine, wheat, corn, newspaper, or other plant-based materials. These litters are safer if ingested and better for the environment. However, some natural litters may track more easily or have weaker odor control compared to clay (The 4 Best Cat Litters, Based On Extensive Testing).

Environmental Impact

The type of cat litter used can have a significant impact on the environment. While clay litters are the most common type found in stores, they are not biodegradable and contain mined clay and silica dust which contributes to landfill waste (source). As clay litter degrades it releases ammonia, which can be toxic. Clay litters are also strip mined, which leads to deforestation and habitat destruction.

In contrast, natural cat litters made of materials like wood, paper, or corn are biodegradable. Natural litters break down through composting or at landfills rather than sitting for centuries like traditional clay (source). This makes them a more eco-friendly choice. However, some natural litters can still contain chemicals added for odor control that aren’t biodegradable. Overall, natural plant-based litters have a lower environmental impact than traditional clay options.

Recycling Options

Some municipalities accept cat litter for recycling, but options are limited. According to RecycleNation, clay litters are not recyclable since the clay is contaminated after use (source). However, some cat litters made from biodegradable materials like wood, paper, or plant fibers may be compostable. For example, Feline Pine makes a litter from pine wood that can potentially be composted, but check with local composting facilities first as rules vary. Some zoos and farms will accept used pine or wood pellet cat litter for animal bedding. Overall, recycling options for traditional clay litters are sparse, so most used litter still ends up in the trash. Look for biodegradable litters if aiming to recycle cat waste.

Putting in Trash

Most types of cat litter can be disposed of in the general household trash. Clay, clumping, crystal, newspaper, and pine litters are typically safe to put in the trash in most municipalities (The Best Way to Dispose of Cat Litter, 2021). However, some exceptions apply.

Litters made from renewable materials like wheat, corn, or wood may be compostable depending on local regulations. Check with your city’s waste management department before putting these in the regular trash. Silica gel litters should also not go in the landfill and require special disposal. Double-bag the waste first before putting in an outside bin with a tight lid to contain odor and moisture (How to Sustainably Dispose of Cat Litter: Eco-Friendly, 2022).

Composting Cat Litter

Certain types of natural cat litter can be safely composted. According to WebMD, plant-based litters made from materials like grains, paper, or wood pellets are compostable. The biodegradable materials in these litters break down during the composting process. Avoid composting clay, crystal, or sand-based litters as they can damage soil quality.

To compost cat litter properly, only use compostable plant-based litters. According to Proviro Group, litters containing wheat, grass, corn, tofu, and paper can be composted if they have no chemical additives. Make sure to empty the litter box waste into the compost pile frequently, at least 1-2 times per week, mixing thoroughly with other compost materials like leaves or food scraps. Turning the compost pile weekly will also help cat litter break down. With the right technique, composting is an eco-friendly way to dispose of natural cat litters.

Litter Disposal Laws

Local regulations can impact how you dispose of used cat litter. Many municipalities have laws prohibiting dumping cat waste, including used litter, outdoors or into storm drains. For example, in California it’s illegal to dump cat feces outside, with fines up to $1,000 or 6 months jail time (

Check with your local waste management authority to understand regulations in your area. Some cities allow disposing cat litter in household trash bins, while others prohibit this. There may also be special procedures for multi-family dwellings. Composting or recycling programs may dictate how you can dispose of biodegradable litters.

Following local laws and guidelines ensures you dispose of used cat litter in the most eco-friendly, sanitary, and legal manner. Responsible litter disposal helps control odors, prevents the spread of toxoplasmosis, and reduces landfill waste.

Disposal Best Practices

When disposing of used cat litter, it’s important to follow best practices to minimize waste and environmental impact. Here are some tips for proper disposal:

Seal bags completely before placing in the trash. Scoop litter into plastic bags, remove excess air and tightly seal the bags. This contains odors and prevents leaks or spills. Opt for heavy-duty bags less likely to rip.

Use biodegradable bags when possible. Choose plant-based or compostable bags that will break down rather than sit in a landfill. Brands like BioBag or EcoSafe Zero Waste offer compostable litter bag options.

Minimize waste and plastic use. Scoop litter daily instead of frequently dumping all litter. Reuse grocery bags for litter rather than purchase plastic bags. Only use what’s necessary.

By sealing bags, choosing eco-friendly options and reducing waste, you can dispose of cat litter responsibly. Follow these tips for best practices.

Litter Box Hygiene

Keeping your cat’s litter box clean and hygienic is crucial for your cat’s health and preventing unpleasant odors. The general recommendation is to scoop the litter box at least once a day and fully change the litter at least once a week. However, some cats may need more frequent scooping and litter changes depending on usage and litter type.

Fecal matter and urine can produce harmful bacteria like E. coli and Salmonella. When allowed to accumulate in the litter box, these bacteria multiply rapidly and can lead to infections and illness in cats. Scooping daily removes feces before bacteria spreads. Likewise, changing litter weekly prevents the buildup of bacteria and also removes urine odors.

Clumping litter in particular should not be allowed to sit for more than a week before replacing, as the urine moisture will eventually break down the clumping capacity. Non-clumping litter may allow for slightly longer durations between full litter changes. However, err on the side of caution and stick to a weekly schedule.

For multi-cat households, litter box hygiene is even more important with the increased bathroom usage. Scoop at least twice daily and change litter two or more times per week. Keeping litter boxes sparkling clean will control odors and promote good health for your feline friends.


As we have discussed, disposing of cat litter responsibly is important for both environmental and public health reasons.

The key points to remember are:

  • Some cat litters, like clay, are not biodegradable and take a long time to break down in landfills.
  • Clumping litter and litter with chemicals should never be flushed or composted.
  • Recycling programs exist in some areas for cat litter, check locally.
  • Compostable litters can be composted if done properly.
  • Throwing away litter may be prohibited in some municipalities.
  • Always follow any disposal laws and regulations in your area.
  • Practice good litter box hygiene by scooping waste frequently and replacing litter regularly.

By being a responsible cat owner and properly disposing of litter, you can reduce your environmental impact and keep your community clean.

Scroll to Top