Cat Food. Which Bin Does it Belong In?


Properly sorting waste into the correct bins is an important part of sustainable living and reducing the environmental impact of waste. For cat owners, knowing which bin cat food and its packaging should go into can be confusing, since there are many different types of cat food packaging. However, taking the time to correctly sort cat food waste is worth the effort. Sending items to landfill when they could have been recycled leads to unnecessary greenhouse gas emissions from landfill sites. Recycling reduces the need for extraction of raw materials, saving energy and resources. Composting wet food waste means that it can be turned into something useful instead of emitting methane in landfill. By understanding local rules and sorting cat food items carefully, cat owners can do their part for the environment and set a positive example in their community.

Types of Cat Food

Cat food generally comes in two main forms – wet and dry. Wet cat food comes packaged in cans, pouches or trays. Dry cat food comes packaged in bags or boxes.

Wet cat food typically contains 60-80% moisture, while dry cat food contains only around 10% moisture. Wet foods therefore contain more protein and fat, while dry foods contain more carbohydrates. Canned wet foods are processed at high temperatures, while pouches and trays are shelf-stable. Dry food undergoes an extrusion process to create the kibble shapes.

Wet foods can be refrigerated after opening, while dry foods can be stored in a cool, dry place. Feeding a combination of wet and dry food is often recommended to provide complete nutrition. Cats typically prefer the taste and texture of wet foods. However, dry foods are often more affordable and convenient.

Common packaging types for wet cat food include:

  • Cans made from tin, aluminum or steel
  • Pouches made from plastic film or foil
  • Plastic tubs or trays with lids

Common packaging for dry cat food includes:

  • Paper or cardboard boxes
  • Plastic bags with zippers or fold-over closures
  • Resealable plastic tubs

Local Waste Management Rules

Waste management rules can vary significantly depending on where you live. The best way to determine the correct bin for cat food and its packaging is to check your local council’s website. Most council sites have a section dedicated to recycling and waste sorting that outlines exactly what items belong in each bin.

For example, the website for the City of Los Angeles has a Recycling Guide that breaks down recycling, green waste, and trash sorting into helpful categories. Checking guides like this for your own city is the simplest way to ensure you are disposing of cat food packaging properly.

Waste management rules can change over time as well, so checking for updates on your local city website is advised. For example, some cities may have recently started accepting certain plastics after previously requiring them to go in the trash. Regular check-ins allow you to stay up-to-date on the latest guidelines.

General Bin Sorting Principles

When it comes to sorting cat food packaging and waste, there are some general principles to follow:

Food waste such as leftover wet cat food or scraps should always go in the general waste bin. Food waste can contaminate recycling streams and should never be placed in recycling bins.

Recyclable packaging such as plastic containers, metal cans, cardboard boxes, and paper bags should be sorted into the appropriate recycling bin if clean and dry. Check with your local waste authority for specifics on which materials go in curbside recycling.

Plastic food packaging should be rinsed to remove food residue before placing in the recycling. Greasy or soiled containers can contaminate other recyclables.

Some cat food pouches combine multiple materials like plastic and aluminum. These often cannot be fully recycled and should go in the general waste. When in doubt, put mixed material packaging in the waste bin.

Litter and used cat litter should always go in the general waste bin, even if the litter is made from clay or other natural materials. Used cat litter is not accepted for recycling.

By following local sorting guidelines and separating food waste from recyclable packaging, we can reduce waste sent to landfills. Check with your municipality for specifics on sorting cat food packaging and litter in your area.

Wet Cat Food Packaging

Wet cat food generally comes in three types of packaging – aluminum cans, plastic tubs, and pouches. Aluminum cans are one of the most common forms of packaging for wet cat food. The good news is that aluminum cans are highly recyclable. Most local recycling programs accept aluminum cans, which can be taken to local recycling drop-off points or placed in curbside recycling bins, depending on the municipality’s rules. Recycling aluminum cans saves 95% of the energy required to produce new aluminum products. Many aluminum smelters even pay for used cat food cans by weight, making it a potentially lucrative recycling option.

Plastic tubs are another common packaging for wet cat food. The recycling potential depends on the type of plastic used. #1 PET and #2 HDPE plastics are commonly accepted in recycling programs. However, some tubs may be made from #5 polypropylene which is not as widely recyclable. Check the number printed on the bottom of the plastic tub to identify the type. The lids of cat food tubs are also often a #5 plastic. These would typically go in the landfill unless the local program specifies they accept all plastics. Reuse plastic cat food tubs for household storage before recycling to get the maximum use.

Pouches for wet cat food are usually made from a multi-layer foil and plastic combination. This type of packaging cannot be readily recycled. Best practice is to avoid pouches when possible and opt for recyclable aluminum cans or plastic tubs instead. If purchasing pouches, reuse them for household storage or dispose of them in the landfill garbage.

Dry Cat Food Packaging

Dry cat food commonly comes in multi-layer bags made of a combination of cardboard, plastic, and aluminum foil. According to Recyclemore, most pet food bags have paper and plastic layers sealed together, making them difficult to recycle. The cardboard provides structure, the plastic acts as a moisture barrier, and the aluminum foil blocks light and oxygen to preserve freshness.

Some facilities can recycle pet food bags if the layers can be separated. Cardboard outer layers may go in the cardboard recycling, while plastic inner liners may go in the plastic recycling if properly cleaned. However, it takes effort to separate the layers without contaminating the recycling streams. Reusable cloth bags are an eco-friendly alternative to reduce pet food packaging waste.

Litter and Litter Packaging

Cat litter comes in a variety of materials including clay, clumping, and paper litters. Clay litters are made from bentonite clay and typically come in plastic jugs or cardboard boxes. The plastic jugs can often be recycled, but check with your local recycling program. Cardboard litter boxes should go in the paper recycling bin if they are empty and clean (source).

Clumping litters are usually made from clay but turn to clumps when wet to allow for easy scooping. Like clay litters, clumping litters often come in plastic jugs or cardboard boxes. Follow the same recycling recommendations as clay litters.

Paper litters are environmentally-friendly options made from recycled paper or other plant materials. However, they typically cannot be composted or recycled after use. The unused paper litter can be composted or recycled, so only purchase amounts you expect to use up (source).

For disposing of used litter, some municipalities allow cat litter to go in the regular trash once it’s bagged. However, check local guidelines, as some require used litter to be disposed of separately as hazardous waste (source).

Other Cat Food Packaging

Besides traditional dry and wet cat food, there are other types of specialized cat food packaging that may not be as straightforward to recycle. These include:

Single-Serving Pouches

Many cat owners opt for single-serving pouches for convenience. These pouches are usually a laminated plastic that cannot be recycled curbside. However, some brands like Wellness offer free recycling programs where you can mail in the empty pouches.

Treat Packaging

Cat treats often come in plastic bags or cardboard boxes. The plastic bags cannot be recycled curbside, but the cardboard boxes can if they are empty and clean. Some brands like Wellness also allow treat packaging to be mailed in for recycling.

Supplement Packaging

Supplements like vitamins and joint support for cats typically come in plastic bottles or foil packs. The plastic bottles can usually be recycled curbside if properly cleaned. The foil packs would need to go in the regular trash.

Recycling vs Landfill

When it comes to cat food packaging, it’s important to consider the environmental impact of recycling versus sending items to landfill. Some key points:

Recycling reduces the amount of waste sent to landfills. Landfills take up a lot of space and contaminate soil and groundwater over time ( Recycling conserves natural resources, avoids greenhouse gas emissions from manufacturing new products, and saves energy.

However, recycling only makes sense if the materials are properly sorted, clean, and accepted by local recycling programs. Contaminated recyclables often end up in landfills anyway. When in doubt, it’s recommended to throw questionable items in the garbage rather than risk contaminating the recycling stream (

Ultimately, reducing waste in the first place is ideal. But when disposing of cat food packaging, check local guidelines and recycle clean, accepted materials if possible. If items are dirty, contaminated, or not accepted for recycling, landfill disposal is the next best option.


When disposing of cat food packaging and waste, it is important to check with your local waste and recycling guidelines. Generally, dry cat food bags can be recycled, while empty steel, aluminum and glass cat food cans should go in the recycling bin. Wet cat food pouches are more difficult to recycle and often need to go in the general waste. Used cat litter and its packaging typically can not be recycled and must go in your general rubbish bin.

To minimize waste, consider buying cat food and litter in recyclable packaging when possible. Cans, cardboard and paper bags are more environmentally friendly than plastic pouches. You can also compost natural cat litter in many cases. By taking the time to properly sort cat food waste, you can reduce the amount going into landfills.

With some extra care taken when disposing of cat food products, we can all make more sustainable and eco-friendly choices for our feline friends.

Scroll to Top