Home Safe Home

Pioneering consumer advocate Debra Lynn Dadd -- author of Nontoxic, Natural & Earthwise, The Nontoxic Home & Office, and Home Safe Home -- gives advice for choosing products that are betterfor your health and the environment. She discloses health and environmental effects of commonproducts, reveals harmful ingredients that aren't on product labels, tells how to choose safer products,and offers tips for making products yourself.

Do you want to choose and use products that are better for your health and the environment, but don'tknow how to choose them or where to find them? Then this column is for you.


HEALTHY CAT LITTER
ALTERNATIVES

All cat lovers share a common problem: providing a litter box that is clean, odorless,convenient, and out of the way.

Many years ago when I had my first cat, a little black kitten named Morgan, it was suggested to me by a man who had three cats that, because I live in the country, Ishould train my kitty to just go outdoors. He didn't have a litter box at all and had noproblems with his cats. I followed his advice and she soon learned to follow her naturalfeline instincts -- to claw a little hole in the ground, then bury her natural contribution to the ecosystem. Since then, I've never provided a litter box for my cats -- they all just go outside. The only problem I've had with this is that when I create a new gardenbed for flowers or vegetables, the cats want to use this area for their litter box becausethe soil is so soft. I've read that sprinkling cayenne pepper on these areas willd is courage cats from repeating this activity, but I haven't tried this yet (as soon as I gotthis information and thought about doing it, my cats stopped this behavior).

I know, however, that my situation, though most natural, is also unusual. Most catowners do need to provide a litter box as there are no outdoor areas available for theircats, or the cats are purposely kept indoors

In her book The New Natural Cat: A Complete Guide for Finicky Owners, authorAnitra Frazier follows the advice she was once given by her veterinarian: "Stick asclose as you can to nature, and you won't go too far wrong." So, what does a wild catuse for a litter box?

"The cat's urine is very concentrated, and the smell is strong. Because this smell could attract predators to the nest, cats in the wild always urinate far away from their habitator any place of activity. They do not urinate where they sleep, eat, hunt, or play."

She suggests a simple system of putting the litter box near the toilet, so you can easily clean it every time you go to the bathroom. Use only one-quarter to three-quarters of an inch of litter at a time, so the wet will hit the bottom and clump. If the litter is too deep, the wetness will spread through the material and make it smell. Keep a largemetal serving spoon (with no holes or slits) near the box. If you notice a coveredmound or wet circle, pick up the litter box and gently shake the dry litter to one end,exposing the wet clump. Then take your spoon and remove all of the clump to thetoilet and flush it away. Once or twice a week, clean the box thoroughly with hot soapy water and rinse well. This procedure should keep the box clean and odor-free,there will be no need to use artificial deodorant sprays.

I make a point of minimizing the use of plastic in my home, so when we occasionallyneed a litter box for kittens, we use a big enameled turkey roasting pan instead.

There are a number of different cat litters available in supermarkets and pet stores, and on the Internet.

The most common and widely available cat litter is made from natural clay, extruded into pellets and dried. It is available just plain and unscented, or with additives such asbaking soda, chlorophyll fresheners, alfalfa, and essential oils. The problem is that these products produce a lot of dust (although some brands claim that the type of claythey use produces a dust-free product), which contains silicon particles that are listedby the California E.P.A. as a known carcinogen. Clay particles tend to cling to your cat's fur and in-between their toes. In addition to leaving dusty cat prints on your floors, breathing these particles can cause respiratory infections ingestion (when theylick themselves clean) can cause intestinal blockage or prevent nutrient absorption. Environmentally, much of the clay is strip-mined -- the US Bureau of Mines estimatesthat , approximately 1.5 million metric tons of clay were mined to make the absorbent type of cat litter alone. Clay-type litter also cannot be flushed, as eventuallythe fine clay particles accumulate in pipes and can cause clogging, so it ends up in the trash can. Some industry sources claim that cat litter accounts for more volume in land fills than disposable diapers.

"Clumping" litter - which produces a solid clump when wet that can be easily scooped out -- contains a lot of sand. Check labels carefully as some are designed to be flushed and others may clog pipes.

New to the market is litter made from silica gel, and odorless mineral that is used inlittle packets to control moisture in packages containing vitamins, cameras, binoculars,and other products where moisture might cause damage. Manufacturers claim the"pearls" to be nontoxic and bacteria resistant. Because the silica gel absorbs and holds moisture inside the balls, it is said that the same litter can be used odor-free up to 12 weeks for one cat without changing the material (the only maintenance needed is to remove the poop). This type of litter can be flushed.

A more natural and renewable option is extruded straw pellets treated only with dryheat. These can be flushed or composted.

Litter in pellet form is also available made from recycled newspapers. While therecycling is obviously good for the environment, these pellets are not as effective asother options in moisture absorption and odor control.

My favorite litter -- the most natural, unprocessed, and effective -- is plain ground corncobs. They are a renewable resource and "recycle" a material that would haveotherwise gone to waste. They have no odor themselves, are very absorbent and provide good odor control, don't produce as much dust as the clay types, and can beflushed.

Another "recycled" litter is made from pure pine sawdust from scrapped pine lumber.It is kiln dried and compressed into pellets that absorb many times their weight inmoisture before they break back down into sawdust. Because pine naturally absorbsand neutralizes ammonia, odor isn't just covered up by chemicals and perfumes, it'seliminated. My only concern about this was that pine sap is very aromatic and many humans have sensitivities to pine aroma, which may be true for cats as well. Themanufacturer states, however, that any harmful aromatic hydrocarbons that might bepresent in the wood are processed out. Small amounts can be flushed, or used litter can be used as a biodegradable garden mulch.

A more unusual cat litter is made from the kenaf plant, which is growing in popularity(it is also used to make tree-free paper). The manufacturer claims the litter to be superabsorbent, non-clumping, dust-free, and biodegradable.

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Written by: Debra Lynn Dadd

"The queen of green" - New York Times
"The guru of nontoxic living" - KCBS-TV News
"One of the country's few authorities on natural and nontoxic consumer affairs"- Boston Globe
"The godmother of natural living" - New Age Journal

Debra's work as a consumer advocate, author, and consultant has been a leading influence on the natural products market-to consumers, marketers, and manufacturers-for almost two decades. Many refer to her well-researched consumer guide books as their "bibles."

Back in 1980, when a "green" product was one the color of grass and "hazardouswaste" was something you found only in a factory, Debra was diagnosed with animmune system disorder commonly known now as "environmental illness" or"chemical sensitivity." Her widely varied symptoms were disabling, but she was told there was no cure-other than removing toxic chemicals from her home. As no books on household toxics or nontoxic alternative products were then available, she set out towrite one, and in the process healed herself and countless others.

After self-publishing her first consumer manual for others with chemical sensitivities,the makers of nontoxic Bon Ami Polishing Cleanser sent her on a media tour topromote the concept of nontoxic cleaning products. By then it had become clear thatthe issue of chemicals in products was much larger than a few sensitive individuals; asshe researched toxic chemicals in products Debra found that many products containedchemicals that are harmful to the general public and that illness caused by these household toxics could be prevented. Nontoxic & Natural was published in 1984,followed by The Nontoxic Home in 1986. Both books not only alerted consumers totoxic dangers, but offered alternative products.

By 1987, Debra was living in a completely nontoxic home in an idyllic NorthernCalifornia forest. Having taken the idea of toxics within the home as far as it would go,she realized that our consumer choices also affected the larger environment as well asour own health. She began to research the environmental effects of consumer products and in 1990 came out with Nontoxic, Natural & Earthwise, adding products that hadenvironmental benefits--such as being recycled, energy-efficient, biodegradable, ororganically-grown--to her lists of nontoxic and natural goods. In 1992, her other bookwas updated to The Nontoxic Home & Office.

As products with environmental claims flooded the market, Debra became concernedthat many of the products that made environmental claims were nothing more than green hype. Because there were no standards or guidelines for evaluating green products, Debra set out to discover what it means to truly live in a way that isresponsible to the earth. Her book, Sustaining the Earth, called for sustainability to beused as the standard for evaluating consumer products, and told everything aconsumer needs to know to evaluate green products for themselves.

Debra's work came full circle in 1997 with the publication of Home Safe Home, anew, completely revised edition of her books on household toxics. With new scientificevidence showing the dangers of common household products to be even worse than previously imagined, her work continues to be timely and valuable.

In addition to writing books, Debra published her own newsletter (1985-1991), andhas written occasional articles for Vegetarian Times, New Age Journal, Greenpeace,East West Journal (now Natural Health) and Self magazines as well as majornewspapers, including USA Weekend. She has written columns for Let's Live(1986-1990) and Environmental Action (1990-1991) magazines and is currently acolumnist for Natural Home magazine.

Debra is also a co-founder of WorldWise, Inc., a company that provides useful products that enhance sustainable living through mass market outlets.


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