YES! But How? :: Cat Litter, Junk Mail

If you're looking for practical ways to live sustainably, just ask us.


I have cats and am concerned about where their litter comes from and where it goes. What can I do to make my cats’ litter box more environmentally friendly?

Pet waste disposal is a tricky matter. First, let’s focus on the type of litter you should use. Many conventional litters contain clay that is strip-mined, a practice that is not sustainable. A variety of alternatives are available, but some are made from virgin materials such as wheat and wood, which is not a good use of those resources. Instead, choose one that is made from material such as old newspaper or reclaimed sawdust.

Once you find a new litter, transition your cats to it by mixing it in with the old litter. If your cats refuses to use their box, lengthen the transition period or keep looking for a sustainable litter they like.

Your new litter may have different clumping or odor-absorbing characteristics. If you notice an odor, sprinkle baking soda in the box to eliminate it. Use non-stick cooking spray on the bottom of the box to prevent litter from sticking. Also, be diligent about scooping the litter box daily; well-maintained litter lasts longer, decreasing the need to change it.

Although some litters can be flushed or composted, be cautious about doing this. Cats can carry the parasite Toxoplasma gondii, called Toxo for short, in their intestines. They spread the parasite’s egg-like cysts, called oocysts, through their feces. Toxo does not harm most people, but pregnant women and people with weakened immune systems should avoid cat waste as the parasite can cause birth defects and brain damage. Additionally, if Toxo enters the water cycle it can infect and kill sea otters. The Sea Otter Alliance asks people to put cat poop in the trash because the oocysts may not be killed by sewage treatment.

If you do compost cat waste, have a veterinarian check your cats for pathogens and keep them indoors to avoid infections. Compost the litter in a container separate from water sources and your other compost. Give the material plenty of time to decompose and never spread it near or over anything you will eat or drink.

For a thorough review of alternative litters,

—Layla Aslani


I’m worried about the environmental impact of all the junk mail I get. Is there an easy way to stop receiving it? —Silvia Casabianca

Advertisers send out more than 62 billion tons of junk mail per year, and 44 percent of it goes into landfills without ever being opened. Producing and disposing of it uses 100 million trees, 28 billion gallons of water, and enough energy to power 2.8 million cars. You can greatly reduce the amount of unwanted mail you receive by taking a few easy steps.

First, go to the Direct Mail Association’s website at sign up for their “Mail Preference Service.” This will get you off their national advertising mailing list. You can do it directly through their website or print out a form and send it in (you’ll need a credit card for verification, but it won’t cost you anything). This will take care of the bulk of your junk mail for five years, after which you’ll need to register again.

Second, gather all the unwanted mail order catalogs you receive and go online to Using their free service, create a login name and click through their list of hundreds of catalogs and check the ones you don’t want, using your name and address as they appear on the covers. After about 10 weeks, the changes will take effect. When new catalogs come, you can simply add them to the list to stop them as well.

Finally, to stop pesky pre-approved credit card offers, call 1-888-5-OPTOUT (1-888-567-8688) or go online to

Taking these three simple steps costs you nothing, reduces your footprint on the Earth, and eliminates the headache of sorting through piles of junk mail.

—Noah Grant


Lots of people like the idea of biking, but bad knees, disabilities, or poor health deter many of them. Others are turned off by the thought of showing up to work (or a date, or a party, or church...) with their shirt stuck to their back with sweat. For those who need a little help joining the two-wheel revolution, electric bikes can be the answer.

Electric bikes give you the benefits of cycling: no gas costs, free parking, no traffic jams, and lots of fresh air. At the same time, they let you choose how much to exert yourself. They have a range of 12 to 30 miles, which makes them perfect for trips to the grocery store or park, as well as short commutes.

Deciding which electric bike to buy can be intimidating given the huge range of options. To get you started, we’ve broken things down to a few key considerations:

  • Kit or Bicycle? You can buy a complete new electric bike or a kit to retrofit your own bike. Full bikes range from $400 to $4,500. Kits start at $450 and go up to $2,000, and require some assembly skill. But they give you more freedom in picking a bike and battery pack that fit your needs.
  • Which Battery? There are four types of batteries for electric bikes, ranging from the low-end sealed lead acid to the high-end lithium ion, with the NiCD and NiMH in between. The more you spend, the lighter and longer-lasting the battery will be. Battery capacity (measured in “watt hours”), determines the range of the bike between charges.
  • How Much Power? The power of electric bike motors is measured in watts, ranging from 250 to 750. Anything between 350 and 450 is enough for most riders to reach a good speed and have no problems getting up hills.
  • How Expensive? This depends on your answers to the questions above. No matter what price range you’re looking at, make sure the manufacturer has been around for a while and check out some reviews online (do a search for “reviews of electric bikes”).

—Noah Grant

Send your questions to [email protected] or to YES! But How?, 284 Madrona Way NE, Suite 116, Bainbridge Island, WA 98110

Our Issue 47 researchers:
Noah Grant buzzed his hair so he could look like David Beckham. He’s enjoying his time at YES! and having a lot of fun with the other interns. Layla Aslani will take her YES! experience to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula where she’ll write for her hometown newspaper, plant an organic garden, and scheme to have chickens within town limits, despite an ordinance against them.

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