The Social Consequences of Traditional Clay Litters

If you’re concerned about reducing your cat’s carbon footprint, you may already be aware that traditional clay or crystal cat litters, made from bentonite clay or silica, are not the most environmentally friendly choice. These litters are made from strip mining -- a method of harvesting natural resources that is extremely destructive to the environment. Mining of clay or silica for cat litter causes deforestation, wildlife habitat loss, increased flooding and erosion, and contamination of groundwater -- all of which contribute to climate change. Additionally, the process of actually making and processing the litter requires the use of fossil fuels, a known driver of climate change.

It’s About More Than Just the Environment

When it comes to sustainability, more often than not, the social or human component is forgotten or left out of the discussion. We talk a lot about biodiversity and environmental concerns, which are extremely important (don’t get me wrong), but that’s only part of the picture. Social factors, such as economic status, education and culture, often drive environmental problems. When social factors are not addressed, this creates a vicious feedback loop of environmental degradation and worsening social problems, and then environmental problems often never get solved. This means that even if you are buying the most eco-friendly products and do what you can to reduce your waste, without being aware of what social costs might be involved, you’ll essentially be putting a band-aid on a broken bone. People and planet go hand in hand when it comes to sustainability.

How Do I Choose a Sustainable Cat Litter?

Sustainability is defined as “meeting the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs.” So, for your cat litter to be sustainable, you should also be thinking about the impacts of cat litter on not only the environment, but also on the communities who rely on the natural resources that are being extracted or demolished.

Extractive activities, such as mining (used to produce clay and silica litters), depend on large production scales to be profitable. Due to these large scales, they need lots and lots of land to operate. Transnational corporations -- which often own and operate mines -- push out or force communities already living in the area to move, a process known as displacement. In instances where communities don’t have to move, mining activities disrupt local ecological, social and economic conditions, which can set off a whole chain of negative impacts. These impacts can include worsening inequalities between men and women, increased violence, sex trafficking, increased problems with drugs and alcohol, and increased public health problems due to contamination and environmental degradation.

Mining Destroys Both Communities and Ecosystems

When mining moves into a community, it creates a new economy based on extraction and high profits (for the corporation, less so for the community) that completely disrupts and erodes whatever local economy was there. The consequences of this change is particularly devastating in rural areas and in communities that are used to subsistence as a way of life.

Because mining is environmentally destructive, it degrades local natural resources on which local communities once relied for both food and income. The environmental destruction caused by resource extraction affects local water sources, used for cooking, drinking and bathing, and also affects the crops these communities grow. The increased runoff and erosion from mining has led to depleted soils and lower crop yields, and contamination of toxic substances such as mercury has led to disease and contaminated soils and sediments.

The Mining Industry and Gender Roles

The changes in livelihoods and to the local economy have numerous social consequences. For one thing, these changes have an effect on gender roles. Gender roles--the economic, cultural and social roles played by women and men (think division of labor)--help with keeping peace and order within communities. When these roles are suddenly changed, there are often unseen and unintended consequences that negatively affect women, men and children for generations to come.

For example, in many communities around the world, women are typically responsible for domestic responsibilities, childcare, and food provision while men are involved in other income-earning activities outside the home. When an extractive industry like mining arrives, women often don’t see a direct economic benefit and actually can become overloaded in their responsibilities to provide for the home without the help of their partners who now work long hours in the mines. In rural Australia, women are already economically isolated with few employment opportunities available. When mining arrived, this isolation was worsened, as the mine offered them very few formal economic opportunities. Their male partners on the other hand, often worked long hours, which gave rise to strained relationships, higher rates of divorce and domestic violence.

DEVASTATING Implications for Women

Additionally, mines usually bring in outside workers as sometimes the local population isn’t enough workforce, and these workers are mostly men. Having lots of men, who are mostly transient, flow into mining areas has been shown to increase prostitution or create prostitution rings that never existed before. The link between mining and prostitution has been long established and studied, and dates back to the start of the mining frontier of the American West during the mid-19th century. The same patterns were seen across the world as other countries entered into the trade in the 19th and early 20th centuries.

When these prostitution rings arise, women enter them either at their own will, sometimes due to diminished economic opportunities, or by force and/or coercion (known as sex trafficking), spurring problems with HIV/AIDS and other Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs). Coupled with the rise of prostitution and a new or increasing cash-based economy, is increased alcohol consumption, a factor known to be associated with increased violence, particularly against women.

The right choice, for your kitty and the earth.

In Northern Canada--where many marginalized indigenous communities reside--women experience violent crime at a rate 8 times higher than women in the Southern provinces. The arrival of mining activities to this region worsened existing social problems and gender inequalities, including problematic substance use and increased violence against women, teenagers and girls. Work in the mining industry also meant that parents had less time for taking care of the home and children—leading to increased drug and alcohol use among adolescents—as well as less time spent passing on long-held traditional livelihoods, such as subsistence hunting and fishing.

While these particular examples aren’t clay or silica mines, similar patterns of negative social impacts are observed in mining communities around the world, no matter the resource being extracted. These transnational corporations have reinforced existing inequalities or worsened social problems. In many instances, mining has disproportionately affected women, as the male-controlled industry has fueled women’s dependence on men and suppressed women’s rights.

Mining and Health Concerns

Mining substances such as silica (crystal cat litter) and clay also have numerous public health consequences. The communities that live near or work in these mines are at risk to a number of health concerns including silicosis, cancer, kidney damage, enlargement of the heart and other pulmonary diseases, due to the contamination brought by mining. Often, these adverse health effects take 10-15 years to manifest, and policies and environmental regulations are often too slow or too lax to address them.

Help Break the Cycle

As TofuKitty is made entirely of reclaimed food-grade soy that would otherwise end up in a landfill, many of these negative social and environmental impacts are avoided. Since this litter is using a waste byproduct, it is not actively contributing to deforestation, displacement of communities, worsening social problems, violence, conflict and the suppression of women’s rights. It is the best choice for both people AND planet.

So, when you’re trying to decide on which litter to buy, you don’t have to feel guilty when using TofuKitty. TofuKitty is the most environmentally and socially conscious cat litter on the market. So, join the TofuKitty club today and help save both people and planet one scoop at a time.

References

  1. Brundtland, G. (1987). Report of the World Commission on Environment and Development: Our Common Future. United Nations General Assembly document A/42/427.
  2. Carvajal, L. M. (2016). Extractivism in Latin America. Bogotá, Colombia: Urgent Action Fund-Latin America
  3. Sassen, S. (2015). Expulsiones: Brutalidad y complejidad en la economía global. Buenos Aires: Katz Editores
  4. Barcia, I. (2017). Women Human Rights Defenders Confronting Extractive Industries: An Overview of Critical Risks and Human Rights Obligations. Association for Women’s Rights in Development (AWID) and Women Human Rights Defenders International Coalition.
  5. Hill, C. and K. Newell. (2009). Women, communities and mining: The gender impacts of mining and the role of gender impact assessment. Scaife, M. (Ed.). Oxfam Australia: 132 Leicester Street, Carlton, Victoria 3053 Australia
  6. Camacho, A., Van Brussel, E., Carrizales, L., Flores-Ramírez, R., Verduzco, B., Huerta, S.R., Leon, M., Días-Barriga, F. (2016). Mercury Mining in Mexico: I. Community Engagement to Improve Health Outcomes from Artisanal Mining. Annals of Global Health 82(1): 149-155.
  7. Lozeva, S. and Marinova, D. (2010). Negotiating Gender: Experience from Western Australian Mining Industry. Journal of Economic and Social Policy 13(2): Article 7.
  8. Carrington, K., McIntosh, A. and J. Scott. (2010). Globalization, Frontier Masculinities and Violence: Booze, Blokes and Brawls. The British Journal of Criminology 50(3): 393–413.
  9. Owen, S. and K. Carrington (2015). Domestic violence (DV) service provision and the architecture of rural life: An Australian case study. Journal of Rural Studies 39: 229-238.
  10. Sharma, S. and Rees, S. (2007). Consideration of the determinants of women’s mental health in remote Australian mining towns. Australian Journal of Rural Health 15: 1-7.
  11. Gender Action. (2011). Broken Promises: Gender Impacts of the World Bank-Financed West African and Chad-Cameroon Pipelines. Gender Action & Friends of the Earth International.
  12. The World Bank (WB) (2014). Gender-Based Violence Prevention: Lessons from the World Bank Impact Evaluations.
  13. Statistics Canada (2013a) Baker Lake, HAM, Nunavut (Code 6205023) (table). National Household Survey (NHS) Profile. 2011 National Household Survey. Statistics Canada Catalogue no. 99-004-XWE. Ottawa. Released September 11, 2013
  14. Nightingale, E., Czyzewski, K., Tester, F. & Aaruaq, N. (2017). ‘The effects of resource extraction on Inuit women and their families: evidence from Canada’. Gender & Development 25:3, 367-385

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