Cat Litter, Strip Mining and Environmental Issues
Sodium Bentonite, perhaps the most popular constituent of clump cat litter, is obtained through strip mining.
There is, obviously, an environmental impact. Sodium Bentonite mining makes business sense only when it is found close to the surface of the earth. Therefore, it is strip mined for cat litter. The top layer of the earth (the overburden) is removed, when strip mining, to take out the clay. Even though there are laws that the land must be left as it was and filled and flattened, how scrupulously such laws can be followed is anyone’s guess.
Coal is also obtained through strip mining. The following excerpt is relevant:
The Surface Mining Control and Reclamation Act (SMCRA) was passed in 1977. This established federal regulations for surface mining and required federal permits for mining on federal land. The act also created the Office of Surface Mining (under the Department of the Interior) which was charged with restoring abandoned surface mines and enforcing the SMCRA regulations.
Difficulties with Reclamation Efforts
In general, however, reclamation can be very difficult. This is because the original ecosystem removed by the strip mine represents a delicate balance of plants, animals, microbes, and soil nutrients, and soil structure resulting from eons of plant succession and nutrient fluxes in and out of the system. Re-establishing this balance in the short-term is at best a scientifically challenging endeavor.
So much for post strip mining replenishment of the environment.
Please visit Polarintertia.com for wonderful (or hideous) slideshow about what strip mining does to mountains. It is not very different from watching scenes depicting animal abuse and mutilation. Here is an image that shows the process (Click on the image on the right to view it in original size).
The clay for the cat litter is dried under extreme heat and turned into a powder or flake. There is a finer quality of powder that comes out of the cat litter making process that is used in the cosmetic industry. The strip mining process, the cost of transportation to the drying facility as well as the use of petroleum products to dry the material does present some questions regarding whether such cat litter should be produced at the expense of the ecology. Add to that the fact that the used clay cat litter is not biodegradable, and is dumped into landfills.
Even cat litter that is biodegradable finds it difficult to degrade in a landfill since the waste is packed too tightly for oxygen to circulate optimally. One can only imagine what happens to the non biodegradable variety of cat litter that must be packed in a similar way. No one stores used cat litter at home. Just visualize the amount of cat litter that gets to landfill every single day, not to mention the amount of cat litter that ends up there in a year.
You are not supposed to flush cat litter down the toilet if you live near the sea or a river.
A a parasite in the feces, toxoplasma gondii, obviously still with the cat litter when it is flushed, may be killing sea otters.
An amendment to the California Fish and Game Code provides:
The Legislature finds and declares that several types of nonpoint source pollution are harmful to sea otters, and that scientific studies point to links between cat feces, the pathogen T-ghondii, and sea otter mortality. The Legislature further finds and declares that efforts to reduce the flushing of cat litter and car feces are steps toward better water quality in sea otters’ natural habitat.
Any cat litter offered for sale in this state shall contain one of the following statements:
“Encouraging your cat to use an indoor litter box, or properly disposing of outdoor cat feces, is beneficial to overall water quality. Please do not flush cat litter in toilets or dispose of it outdoors in gutters or storm drains.”
A general statement that encourages the disposal of cat feces in trash and discourages flushing cat feces in toilets or disposing of them in drains. (See California Fish and Game Code Section 4501).
As part of its educational outreach regarding toxoplasma, the Monterey Bay Aquarium suggests that guardians of indoor/outdoor cats provide an outdoor litter box as well as an indoor one.
Landfills, then, seem like the only option for used cat litter, and the less space for us and our cats as more and more non biodegradable cat litter accumulates in the landfills.
Strip Mining and Clay or Silica Cat Litters may be redundant after all
Whether or not we should seek out alternative sources of power is a question reserved for elsewhere. As a layperson, however, I tend to believe that destroying the planet cannot logically be the only means to light up our glorious civilization. As far as cat litter is concerned, with all the organic alternatives available in the market, the strip mining and industrial expenses for cat litter appears to be somewhat redundant. Stripping the surface off the earth and laying it bare for cat litter that we do not need hardly makes sense.
Pet owners choose the most effective cat litter, the clump cat litter, without realizing where it comes from or where it will go. These are people that are already going that extra mile to care for a different species. Surely, if they were informed of the dangers of these cat litter varieties to their pets as well as to themselves and to the environment in general, they would opt for the organic alternatives instead. All we need is to let people know of the truth about cat litter and strip mining. (Click here for information on Organic Cat Litter).