Pet Waste and Wastewater

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I mentioned before in my “Unspeakables” post that we use wood pellet kitty litter in this house. I have seen it sold as both Feline Pine and Simply Pine (the latter is $2 cheaper), and it always comes in a big, thick plastic bag – darn! To my enjoyment, I recently discovered a product called Swheat Scoop, which is marketed as flushable and comes in a recyclable paper bag or box. I was initially really excited about the idea – I wouldn’t need plastic bags to scoop the poops into, and I could just flush it away. Problem solved!

Unfortunately things are never that simple. As far as the quality of the litter goes, my sister, having used both Swheat Scoop and Feline Pine, says that the Swheat Scoop tracks around the house even more than the sawdust from the wood pellets, and there is no pleasant pine smell to keep the eau de kitty poo from permeating the house. She just has easier access to the Swheat Scoop, so that is what she uses now.

Additionally, I remembered my field trips to wastewater treatment plants. When your sewage enters a wastewater treatment plant, is is first screened to remove the big solids – toilet paper chunks, flushable wipes, and tampons, to name some of the less gross ones (I dare you to ask a wastewater treatment plant worker what the weirdest thing they’ve seen in the screens is…although it’s more likely to make you sad than squeamish). These removed solids go into a truck that takes them to, go figure, a landfill.

Now, the Swheat Scoop supposedly disintegrates in the toilet (you must let it sit for 20 minutes before you flush it), which means it would likely pass the bar racks and enter the treatment system. There it poses more serious problems; wastewater systems are designed on fairly delicate balances of bacteria, which break down the waste as it moves through the system. I say delicate because introducing things like Drano can kill off the bacteria and make the system less effective, which can halt operations or increase the demand of toxic disinfecting chemicals (usually derivatives of chlorine). On the other hand, introducing things like the waste from your garbage disposal can cause a boom in bacterial growth. Good, right? Wrong. A boom in bacteria eventually leads to a catastrophic bust; after the surplus of “food” is consumed, the bugs begin to die off in droves, taking away from the recharge of the activated sludge or, again, increasing the chlorine demand.

I imagine that the wheat in the Swheat scoop might have a similar effect to the garbage disposal on the system, since it is technically a food byproduct, but I wasn’t really sold on staying with my seemingly more wasteful kitty litter until I received our town’s newsletter the other day. There was a section that read:

“Waste water systems operate 24-hours a day, 7-days a week – that is until an item that doesn’t belong makes its way into the system, clogging pipes and causing headaches for operators.

Perpetrators mucking up the system are known as “nondispersibles,” which currently means anything other than human waste and toilet paper that’s flushed down the toilet.

The waste water industry reference for dispersibility is two-ply toilet paper, which starts to break apart when the toilet is flushed and is indistinguishable in the waste water system in a matter of seconds.

Manufacturers label any product capable of making it through a home’s plumbing system as flushable. But in collection systems, treatment plants, and septic systems, nondispersibles clog pumps, pipes and valves; overwhelm screens and bar racks; and block sewer mains. They can cause sanitary sewer overflows and require extensive repairs and replacement of pumps, screens, and other equipment.” – The Orono Observer, March-April-May 2014

So, for now, we will be sticking with our wood pellet litter. We now have a little “holding tank” for the stuff we scoop out of the litter boxes so that we don’t have to use a new plastic bag each time. We are down to the last of our plastic bags from before we started refusing them, so we will probably switch to a liner-free holding system and dump it into our kitchen garbage before we take it to the curb. I’m not sure what we’re going to do about it when we stop using garbage liners…but you can rest assured that I will update you when we get there!

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