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Happy 70th Birthday, Kitty Litter

AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

It's not every man who can make history by thinking inside the box.

(SOUNDBITE OF CAT MEOWING)

CORNISH: In this case - the cat box. Seventy years ago this month, Edward Lowe invented kitty litter.

ARI SHAPIRO, HOST:

Lowe was living in Michigan, selling sand, sawdust and clay to heavy industries, materials that were sometimes used to soak up spills. One day, an acquaintance of Lowe's asked for help. Like many cat owners, she filled her cat's box with sand. But she didn't like how the cat tracked dust through the house.

CORNISH: Edward Lowe thought, clay - clay is absorbent. So he gave her a bag of clay granules.

SHAPIRO: The lady tried it. She liked it. Her cats seemed to like it, and Lowe knew he was onto a real money maker.

CORNISH: But before he could make his first million, he had to convince other cat owners.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

KATHY PETERSON: When he would go to his first cat show, he said, my goodness, it smelled to high heaven.

CORNISH: That's Kathy Peterson, Lowe's daughter. She was on our program in 1995 just after her father died.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED BROADCAST)

PETERSON: The people there were amazed how his simple clay was helping with the odor. The cat would still be an outdoor animal without kitty litter.

JACKSON GALAXY: With over 95 million cats in American homes these days, it's a huge thing.

CORNISH: Jackson Galaxy is the host of the show "My Cat From Hell" on Animal Planet.

GALAXY: Cat litter accounts for over $2 billion. It's a huge industry.

SHAPIRO: Clay litter is now the most commonly used litter in the U.S. - convenient cleanup, yes, but Galaxy says there is a big environmental downside.

GALAXY: And we see us trying to mitigate that effect now with the advent of a lot of litters that are much more environmentally friendly and not made of clay. Right now, we're dumping upwards of 8 billion pounds of cat litter into landfills every year. The kicker is that it is not biodegradable. That mummified cat poop is going to be around a lot longer than you or me.

CORNISH: In the meantime, as you cat owners sift and scoop what your feline friends leave behind, pause for a moment to mark the invention of kitty litter 70 years ago this month.

(SOUNDBITE OF CHET ATKINS SONG, "TRAMBONE") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

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