When small animal owners shop for bedding and litter products, there are a number of factors that they consider before making a final decision. These include aesthetics, convenience and texture, as well as comfort, absorption, odor control, health effects on the animal, the product’s mess quotient and price. Even the scent of a product will influence a customer’s choice. All of these factors will determine which products sell in a given market, and therefore, which products a retailer can successfully move off the shelves.
However, now that customers are becoming more aware of products’ ecological impact, the green quotient of a product must also be taken into account. There are a number of products on the market for small animal owners who want to buy eco-friendly bedding and litter products, and they can be divided into three basic types. First are products made from recycled post-consumer materials that otherwise would go to landfills. Another option is a product made from industrial or agricultural byproducts, also materials that would otherwise end up in a landfill or burned. A third choice is a product made from an easily renewablee source that can be composted or even flushed down the toilet in small quantities.
In the recycled post-consumer category, there are several products made from paper. Despite the current digital age, it seems that paper is used more than ever before. According to one source, it is estimated that over 40 percent of landfill space is made up of paper products, and one ton of recycled paper saves three cubic yards of landfill space, as well as 17 trees. Therefore, buying recycled paper products can help make a dent in the problem.
There are several pelleted bedding/litter options made from recycled newspaper, and there is also a one made from a combination of recycled newspaper, catalogs, magazines, junk mail, office paper and book pages. Paper itself does not have significant odor-control properties, so paper bedding/litter must be changed frequently. However, some of these options have baking soda added to extend the life of the product.
Still, some customers avoid pellets because they think they are uncomfortable for pets. For these customers, options such as a product from recycled phone books that has the texture of wood shavings or one that is made from shredded brown kraft paper may be perfect. Some people express worry that the ink in recycled paper is toxic, but retailers can ease their fears by explaining today’s newspapers and phone books are all printed with non-toxic soy-based ink. In addition, products made from other recycled paper are processed to remove the ink.
Litter products made from agricultural and industrial byproducts include pellets made from straw, aspen wood and bark, and various products made from paper fibers. A big advantage of products made from straw and aspen is that they have strong, natural odor-control properties, making them last much longer between cleanings.
All products made from plants, including paper, can be composted—another eco-friendly characteristic that will appeal to some customers.
Staff members can help customers choose the best bedding or litter product by asking some questions and determining which product characteristics they are seeking. For instance, neat freaks might appreciate pellets, which can be less messy than shredded materials—since they are heavier, they are less likely to be kicked out of the cage. Pellets are also usually less dusty than shredded products. Although many paper products are touted as dust free or low dust, the fact is that a shredded paper product will have at least a small amount of dust. While the dust is non-toxic and tends to be fine for most pets, at least some rats will sneeze when on a shredded paper product.
For customers who object to certain aspects of a product or want multiple benefits that are not offered by just one product, a good solution is to suggest using a mix of products. For example, if a customer likes the odor-control benefit of a pelleted product, but feels it will be uncomfortable for their pets, a retailer may suggest that the customer layer the cage floor with pellets to help with absorption and odor control, and then use a softer product on top to make it more comfortable. Or, if a customer thinks pellets are ugly, they can be covered with a layer of a more aesthetically pleasing product.
If a customer likes the odor-control properties of a product, but feels it is too expensive, their objections might be overcome by explaining that because the product lasts longer in the cage, it can be changed less often, and therefore purchased less often, which saves money in the long run.
Debbie Ducommun has a B.A. in animal behavior and has worked in the animal field since 1982. She is the author of the book Rats!, the booklet Rat Health Care and, her most recent book, The Complete Guide to Rat Training: Tricks and Games for Rat Fun and Fitness.