The 6 Best Eco-Friendly Cat Litters of 2021

Eco-friendly essentials for your cool cats and kittens

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The Rundown
A low-dust corn and wood fiber litter, from a company that supports the cat rescue community.
No new trees are killed to make this affordable, pure pine litter.
Fresh News Recycled Paper cat litter is made with 100% post-consumer paper from recycling centers.
Soft and clean for older cats or those recovering from surgery.
Reclaimed shells organically- and sustainably-grown in California.
Organic litter that clumps well and prevents odors without added chemicals.

Cat litter is often something we don’t think much about. But choosing the right cat litter for you and your kitty can also be healthier for you, your pet, and for the environment.

Clay-based cat litter may be the most common—and therefore the most affordable and widely available—choice on the market, but it is not considered good for the environment (see the FAQs below). In addition, clay cat litters often have added silica which generates dust. This dust can irritate asthma sufferers when inhaled by you or your cat. The dust generated during cleaning or use by your cat can get deep into the lungs and may be difficult to expel, causing respiratory problems and in rare cases, lung cancer.

So, perhaps one of the best choices you can make for your cat, the environment, and your lungs is to choose a biodegradable cat litter. Alternative litters are made from a variety of materials alone or in mixtures including paper, corn, walnuts, wheat, wood, pine, and grass.

Here are the best eco-friendly cat litters:

Best Overall: World's Best Cat Litter Multiple Cat Unscented

World's Best Cat Litter Multiple Cat Unscented

To earn the top overall spot, the litter must be absorbent, available, reasonably affordable, sustainably produced, and capable of preventing odors. Corn-based cat litters are made from finely-ground whole corn kernels or ground corn cobs. The cobs are more environmentally friendly because a waste product is being given a new purpose, and they biodegrade.   

The magic of this brand is that it is made from whole-kernel corn compressed into tight granules that expand to absorb and clump quickly to trap odors. To accomplish that odor control the litter includes a proprietary “wood fiber” free of chemicals, additives, or preservatives.

We like that it has no dust and no obvious smell. It clumps well so it’s easy to scoop. Made in Iowa, we also love that World’s Best gives back. The company reports that it has donated more than 662,000 pounds of litter to rescue cats in need.

If you’ve never tried an alternative litter, this is a great place to start. It’s carried affordably in a lot of major stores as well as health-conscious pet stores.

"My friends and I’ve used World’s Best Multi-Cat Unscented Clumping Corn Cat Litter for a couple of years now. I switched to non-clay, non-silica cat litter because a family member suffers from mild asthma and I have a cat with just one working lung. Low dust and non-toxicity were high priorities for us all. My cats are long-haired and so they track it around more than I’d like. But a large mat under the box helps with a quick clean." ~ Author Lorraine Wilde

Best Budget: Feline Pine Original Non-Clumping Litter

Feline Pine Original Non-Clumping Litter

Non-clumping cat litters tend to be more affordable, although you’ll likely need to change them more often than the clumping kind. Non-clumping litter is absorbent and holds odors well.

Feline Pine is one of the more affordable brands: A 40-pound bag is around $15 to $20. Rescue agencies and shelters that are on tight budgets like it also for its smell-reduction without scents or perfumes. Feline Pine uses sustainable kiln-dried shavings reclaimed from lumber production so no new trees are killed to make it.

Perhaps the best part is the litter is 100% pine shavings. It has a naturally fresh pine scent while also being lightweight and gentle for cat paws. No additional ingredients also means no added toxins, allergens, or other preservatives. It can be found at most major pet retail stores and even many grocery stores.

"When I adopted my cat from the shelter, Feline Pine was the litter she was already using so we stuck with it. The pine smell is pleasant but not overpowering, and it’s easy to know when to change it because you can clearly see that all the pellets have broken down into a sawdust consistency." ~ Margaret Badore, Senior Treehugger Editor

Best Recycled: Fresh News Recycled Paper Litter

Fresh News Recycled Paper Litter

Like walnut shells, corn cobs, and some wood-based litters, this paper cat litter is made from a product that would otherwise be thrown away. Fresh News Recycled Paper cat litter is made with 100% post-consumer paper from recycling centers. In fact, the company created a community recycling program called PaperGator where non-profit organizations, primarily churches and schools, get paid for collecting paper products both internally and from their communities.

Recycled paper litter is safe for animals and can be composted so it doesn’t have to end up in the landfill, although cat waste must be composted with care so that the resulting soil is never applied to food crops.

Fresh News claims to be almost three times more absorbent than clay litters, so it lasts longer. The soft, dust- and allergen-free pellets retain their form when they get wet but they don’t clump so you’ll need to change it more often than clumping litter.

Made in Michigan, this litter has added baking soda to control odors.

Warning

Used litter can contain the parasite, Toxoplasma gondii, which causes toxoplasmosis that is especially dangerous for a developing fetus. That's why it's important not to mix cat waste with other compost.

With any cat litter, pour in a ventilated area to reduce your exposure to dust, and always wash your hands thoroughly after cleaning up.

Best Wood: Ökocat Super Soft Clumping Wood Unscented Cat Litter

Ökocat Natural Wood Clumping Cat Litter

Wood litters consist of cedar, spruce, or fir in lightweight chip or pellet form. For cats recovering from surgery or an injury, wood cat litters work well to keep wounds and incisions clean.

Ökocat Super Soft Clumping Wood Unscented cat litter is a great choice because its softness will appeal to your sore kitty and their delicate feet. Made from sustainably sourced, natural wood fiber that has been responsibly rescued, its texture is similar to clay.

Ökocat removes excess dust so you and your cat can breathe easily. The natural wood fibers absorb urine and prevent the formation of ammonia, the substance that causes the strongest odor in your cat box.

Best Walnut: Naturally Fresh Cat Litter

naturally-fresh-litter

Walnut cat litter is made from crushed walnut shells and fibers, but not the nut meat. If the shells are sustainably sourced, they will come as a byproduct from walnut growers or packagers that would otherwise throw the shells away. So, it’s a win-win. It has a pleasant smell when it first comes out of the bag, but the scent doesn’t remain for long afterward to scent the room.

Naturally Fresh Quick-Clumping cat litter is made from 100% annually renewable, organically-grown, non-GMO walnut shells from California. It forms tight scoopable clumps within 15 minutes. The manufacturer claims that this litter is so absorbent, one bag will last as long as three bags of clay-based litter. Naturally Fresh is dust-free and doesn’t stick to kitty paws so it's low tracking.

An added bonus is that Naturally Fresh is manufactured in a 100% solar-powered plant. Because walnut litters are not as common as clay-based litters, you may not find them in all stores.

This Quick-Clumping variation is a fine ground recommended for one or two cats. This brand also comes in Multi-Cat Unscented, Multi-Cat Ultra Odor Control, Non-Clumping Unscented Pellet, and Scented Clumping cat litter in Alpine Meadow and Herbal Attraction fragrances.

Best for Odor Control: Pioneer Pet All Natural Clumping Litter

Pioneer Pet All Natural Clumping Litter

For some, the choice of which litter to use is all about odor control—especially if you have multiple cats and litter boxes at home. We recommend Pioneer Pet brand SmartCat All Natural Grass cat litter. We found there are no negative smells even when deposits have been made. It also clumps well—the bag claims it clumps better than clay—so it’s easy to scoop. This litter is also great for multi-cat households because it doesn’t track, saving you from the extra cleanup.

SmartCat is made from 100% organic non-GMO grass seed that is chemical-free and 99% dust-free. That also means it’s a renewable resource. The moisture is removed from the seed leaving behind a high-starch, lightweight, and fine-grained litter that is quite absorbent and locking in odors. Containing no fragrance, this litter is biodegradable.

Grass cat litter is a newer concept so you won’t find it everywhere. That means it can cost more than some of the other non-clay/non-silica litters. Rarely, cats can be allergic to grass, so keep that in mind as you try it out.

Final Verdict

If you’re just venturing into non-clay and non-sand cat litters, World’s Best Multi-Cat Unscented Clumping Corn Cat Litter (view at Walmart) is an excellent place to start. Its price, performance, and clumping ability have made it a favorite.

What to Look for in Cat Litter

Clumping

As with any cat litter you buy, consider whether you prefer clumping or non-clumping types. Clumping is easier to scoop, but finicky cats tend to prefer the less expensive non-clumping litter that holds greater volumes of urine and odor but must be changed more often (usually once per week if you scoop daily).

Most cat litters will mention whether or not they are flushable. But the truth is, if you can avoid it, it’s better if you don’t flush your cat litter. Flushable cat litters don’t expand as much as non-flushable types. Both kinds are capable of clogging your pipes if you ignore their specific flushing directions.

But even without the risk of plumbing problems, it’s still a negative for your municipal sewage treatment facility or your septic system. For your city’s system to treat what you flush, they’ll need to separate the cat litter solids and send them to the landfill anyway. By skipping the flush, you’re saving them the trouble and reducing the sediments sent to the treatment plant.

If you are on a home septic system, flushing your cat litter is just adding excess organic solids to your system. That forces it to work harder to process your waste. That can upset the balance in your system and result in an increased need for service. Instead, find out if your local compost facility can accept cat litter, or if you want to compost at home, set up a dedicated kitty compost pile.

If you must flush, check the bag to ensure the litter is flushable. Those that are will include recommendations and flushing limitations that are worth following. You’ll want to avoid anything that expands when it gets wet.

Pellet Size

Pellet size is also something to consider. If you have a long-haired cat, litter with a small pellet size is discouraged. It can stick and mat in their fur. Many litters will indicate on the bag whether or not it is recommended for long-haired cats.

Multi-Cat

For those with more than one kitty, consider litters designated as “multi-cat.” They tend to contain more odor neutralizers like baking soda to prevent odors on contact. Clumping litters are often better for multiple cats because they can be quickly scooped each day and need to be changed less often. Most experts also recommend one box for each cat plus at least one additional litter box.

FAQs

Can I make my own cat litter?

Yes! There is a wide range of materials that can be used to make Do-It-Yourself (DIY) cat litter. Be aware that each material has different properties so, for example, some may be quite absorbent but not contain odors and vice versa. Be sure to look at the pros and cons of each type so you can pick the one that’s right for you. Most recipes rely on baking soda as an ingredient to help control odors, but you can also try green tea.

Newspaper is a great option if you’re still getting your local paper because you’re repurposing something you’ve already purchased. But you can also find simple recipes online that incorporate one or more of these biodegradable materials:

  • Dried wood chips, shavings, sawdust, or animal bedding (cedar, pine, etc.), but avoid fresh cedar as it contains natural phenol oils that are toxic for cats
  • Whole corn kernels
  • Steel-cut oats
  • Ground wheat berries
  • Chicken feed
  • Rabbit food (alfalfa or Timothy grass) pellets
  • Coconut or walnut shells
  • Wood pellets (stove fuel or livestock bedding)

 

Is clay cat litter biodegradable?

The clay used in cat litter is a natural soil component made of minerals—either calcium montmorillonite or the clumping sodium bentonite. Neither type breaks down further in a landfill or your compost pile. So although both are naturally occurring, they are not technically biodegradable.

Is clay cat litter eco-friendly?

Clay cat litter is not considered good for the environment because it is often not sustainably sourced. Although clays are naturally occurring soil minerals, and therefore better than synthetics, they must be mined. The process commonly used—strip mining—involves the removal of all trees, plants, and topsoil which then results in erosion into nearby waterways. Most strip mines are so destructive that they cannot and are not repaired or remediated.

Often, these clays are strip-mined from the Southern United States, Montana, Wyoming, or South Dakota. Some clays may also be strip-mined from foreign countries like China and the Ukraine.   

Are silica cat litters eco-friendly?

Many clay cat litters have added silica, which generates silica dust. Silica is a type of sand. It is also known as silica sand, silica gel, or crystal cat litter. Silica is made from mined quartz (silicon dioxide). Like clay, it is made from naturally occurring elements that weather slowly and will not technically biodegrade.

Some companies are marketing it as a better alternative to clay cat litters because it is non-toxic, technically reusable and it doesn’t generate harmful dust the way clay does. It also is better at neutralizing odors and lasts longer than clay cat litter. Although the silica mining process is less damaging than clay strip mining, the process still causes damage to the environment. It also requires a lot of processing and energy to produce. The litter will still sit in the landfill on a geologic time scale and is not sustainable long-term.

What is the best way to dispose of biodegradable cat litter?

So glad you asked! There are many ways to dispose of the litter, each with advantages and disadvantages. Check out this Treehugger article for the pros and cons of the greenest options.   

Why Trust Treehugger?

Lorraine Wilde has had at least one cat companion in her home for the past 35 years. Two of her cats lived into their early twenties. She has only the highest of standards for her best friends. Lorraine also holds a Master’s degree in environmental science and is a firm believer that consumers can make healthy, informed, and environmentally conscious choices to protect their families, their pets, and our planet.

View Article Sources
  1. "Crystalline Silica: Health Risks." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

  2. "Toxoplasmosis: Pregnancy FAQs." Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.