Why Kitty Litter is Deadly for Your Septic System

Kitty using the litter box
Kitty using the litter box

Few things pose greater risk to your septic system than flushing kitty litter (and the associated droppings) down the toilet. Pet owners have long since bemoaned the chore of cleaning the litter box; it’s stinky, messy, dusty, and ends with the pet owner having to dispose of a bag of kitty droppings. Environmental advocates have also brought attention to the issue of tossing plastic grocery bags filled with clay-based litter, neither of which are biodegradable, into landfills. Pet owners turn to “flushable” kitty litter as the seemingly perfect solution to these problems. While there are several products on the market that claim to be “flushable,” the reality is, flushing kitty litter – even “flushable” kitty litter – wreaks havoc on your septic system and can quickly lead to catastrophic, whole-system failure. Furthermore, flushing cat feces into a system that will feed into the water table, as your septic system does, poses serious health and environmental risks.

What Kitty Litter Does to Your Septic System (and Plumbing)

When you consider the purpose of kitty litter, it’s easy to understand why it would be so harmful for your septic system. Most litters are clay-based because of clay’s ability to absorb liquid. In fact, clay can absorb its weight in cat urine, which helps control litter box odor as well. The most popular litters are clumping clay-based litters because the clay hardens into an easily removable clump, which adds significantly to the life of the rest of the litter in the box. By its nature, clay is non-biodegradable, super absorbent, and highly malleable, which allows it to bend and mold into just about any shape when wet but hardens like a rock when dry. These properties combine for a deadly combination when introduced into your home’s plumbing and septic system.

The first obstacle flushed kitty litter will have to overcome is making it out of your home’s plumbing system. Most “flushable” litters caution consumers to flush only a clump or two at a time and waiting a few minutes before flushing another round of clumps. When each flush of a low-flow toilet sends 1.3 gallons of water into your septic tank, flushing between clumps will cause you to significantly increase the amount of water entering your septic, possibly overwhelming the system. “Flushable” litter manufacturers also advise against flushing hardened, dry clumps, as these are much more likely to clog your drains. If the flushed litter makes it out of your home’s plumbing system and finds its way into your septic tank, it will collect just underneath the inlet pipe, never breaking down but only adding to the layer of solids in your tank. Even biodegradable litters, like those made from corn, wood, pine, or wheat, will not be broken down by your septic system. There are also many places along the way into your septic tank were the litter may collect and harden, including the inlet baffle. If the inlet baffle clogs, wastewater from your home will have nowhere to go but back into your home. Sewage backups are extremely common for septic owners who flush kitty litter.

Cat Waste and the Environment

People tend to think flushing kitty litter is more environmentally friendly than bagging and tossing it into the garbage. In their mind, flushing means less plastic ending up in the landfill. It is ironic then that flushing kitty litter, even into a public sewage treatment facility, poses wide-reaching and extremely dangerous environmental risks. The EPA considers pet waste to be an environmental pollutant that can have a negative impact on wildlife, spread disease, and contaminate drinking water. Among all pet waste, cat feces pose the most significant environmental risk due to the possibility that it contains a parasite called Toxoplasma gondii, which can cause toxoplasmosis for humans who ingest the oocysts. All cats are potential carriers of this parasite, and neither septic systems nor public waste treatment facilities are capable of neutralizing the threat of this parasite. Human infection can be mild to severe, causing flu-like symptoms in the least serious cases. However, for those with compromised immune systems, like pregnant women, infants, or the elderly, toxoplasmosis can have more dangerous effects, including fetal development issues, damage to the eyes or blindness, brain damage, premature birth, and even death. Flushing kitty litter into your septic system may contaminate your groundwater, which filters into your garden and eventually leads back to your tap.

Eco-Friendly Ways to Manage Kitty Litter

We are big advocates for improving human impact on the environment; after all, one of the biggest advantages of septic systems is they are able to purify wastewater without the use of harsh chemicals. One great way to minimize the negative impact of disposing of kitty litter is to switch from a clay-based litter to one that is biodegradable. Not only will the litter be naturally able to decompose, but switching to a litter that is not clay-based will also reduce the need for harsh strip-mining used to gather the clay for traditional litter. Another wonderful way to reduce the environmental impact of litter disposal is to use plant-based bags instead of plastic grocery bags. These two changes alone will greatly improve the environmental impact of disposing of kitty litter. Just remember, flushing kitty litter is never an option.

Have you flushed things you shouldn’t? Contact us today to schedule a service visit.