Cat trees came into existence in the year 1968 by Frank Crow. His primary goal was to give cats their own “special space” to claw, play, lounge, and sleep.
The invention took off fairly quickly, and since then, many manufacturers have created bigger, grander cat trees. Some are even decorated with plush sleeping hammocks, ladders, and hanging toys! It’s just like Disney World, but for cats.
Many cat trees are eco-friendly, as well, made from sustainable wood, faux fur, and sisal rope.
But what happens to the tree when it’s time to replace it? Are cat trees recyclable? Can you donate or give away your cat tree? Let’s find out!
How Cat Trees Are Made
When answering the question, “can you recycle cat trees?” we first need to know what your cat tree is made from.
There are a ton of different materials used to construct a cat tree. Today, I’ll be discussing some of the most commonly used, which include solid wood, plywood, medium-density fiberboard, particle board, and corrugated cardboard.
A lot of cat tree manufacturers opt for sustainable wood that comes from sustainably managed forests. Solid wood is ideal for those who are looking for a strong, durable cat tree that’ll last for years. It’s much stiffer and hardier than plywood.
Wood can be recycled in multiple ways. Some of which include:
- Reusing it to make other materials, like shelves or wooden toys
- Adding it to your compost heap, like you do with sawdust and wood shavings
- Taking it to your local civic amenity site for recycling
Medium-density fiberboard, or MDF, is a type of wood product that’s made from wood chips, plant fibers, and other related materials. To stick it all together, resin, a synthetic organic polymer, is used.
Before recycling MDFs, it’s important to note that they contain potentially toxic products. If not handled properly, they can be quite hazardous.
Most fiberboards contain urea-formaldehyde. This chemical poses as an odorless gas that’s released during the sanding or cutting process of MDF. It’s toxic when inhaled or absorbed through the skin, and may cause eye and lung irritation when exposed directly.
The U.S. Environmental Protection Agency states that recycled fiberboard can be safely transported to agricultural lands. Nonetheless, it’s best to check your area’s local recycling regulations to see if you can recycle fiberboard, or if it’s better to throw it away.
Although plywood is classified as an oriented strand board, it’s entirely recyclable. Just like MDFs, plywood is made of little wood pieces that are held together to be as strong as lumber.
As long as your plywood is untreated, unpainted, and unstained, you can have it recycled. You can also reuse plywood for your DIY projects!
Compared to other cat tree materials, particle boards are less resistant to weight and scratches. Moisture damages them quite easily, as well.
Unlike wood and plywood, it’s difficult to reuse and recycle particle boards. This is primarily due to the off-gassing of formaldehyde gas when cut.
Plus, particle wood can’t be planed or cut without exposing its chips. As such, it makes them virtually useless when it comes to DIY products.
As such, the only way to recycle particle boards is by incineration.
Remember NOT to do this yourself to avoid being exposed to toxic fumes. You can either dispose of it entirely (throw it in your trash bin) or go to your local recycling center so they can take care of it themselves.
Although corrugated cardboard is the “weakest” cat tree material, it’s fairly lightweight and budget-friendly.
Corrugated cardboard is made up of 50% recycled fiber, which makes it completely safe to recycle. Place the corrugated cardboard in your Green Bin so your local haulers can pick it up and transport it to the right location.
The majority of cat trees are covered with carpet because its texture allows a cat to scratch and claw on it. Plus, it’s soft and provides enough cushion for cats to lounge on.
Most of the time, a used and damaged cat carpet can’t be recycled due to its worn state. You can, however, take it to your nearest recycling location if you own a lot of it instead of throwing it away.
Faux fur is softer and finer than the carpet. It has a silk-like feel to it, making it quite comfortable for cats to lay on. Most faux fur is made of sustainable materials, largely using recycled polyester.
I don’t recommend you to use a cat tree’s faux fur to DIY projects for sanitary reasons. You can, however, recycle them. Just like corrugated cardboard, throw them in your Green Bin to be transported correctly.
Sisal rope is made from organic plant fibers, which makes it highly compostable. Due to this, you can safely throw it in your Green Bin.
DIY Cat Tree Recycling Ideas for Wood and Plywood
If you’re big into DIY and recycling, here are some ideas on how to reuse/repurpose an old cat tree!
A lot of cat trees are made from wood, reclaimed materials, bamboo, and plastic. So instead of throwing away your cat tree, why not turn it into a bookshelf instead?
To do this, you’ll first need to completely discard the cat tree’s carpeting, and polish the plank well to remove chips or rough surfaces. If needed, paint the outer layer of the material with a color that suits your aesthetic needs. Better yet, choose one that matches your current furniture.
Once dry, you can just simply screw the plank on an empty wall and use it to hold whatever you want, whether it be a book, plant, or a standing picture frame.
If you own a cat tree that’s made entirely from wood, you can turn it into wooden toys for your kids. Here are some ideas:
- Block Stacker
- Puzzle Piece
- Rattles and Teethers
- Tic-Tac-Toe Blocks
Picture frames are super easy to make! Once you cut the pieces to the right length, all you’ll need to do is to glue the frames together.
Just like wooden shelves, you can paint it once you’re done. Cut a single-strength window glass or clear plastic for the picture frames to beautify it even more.
Is It Safe to Buy a Used Cat Tree?
A great way to give back to the environment is to purchase second-hand products. But although this is true for household furniture and clothes, is it the same for cat trees?
Research believes that used cat toys, cat trees, and other pet-related items can trigger anxiety and disease. Cats have a highly developed sense of smell, so they’ll know if the cat tree has been used by another animal before.
Furthermore, cats are increasingly territorial over their living space. There’s a possibility that they won’t use the cat tree if they know it belongs to another cat. Read this article to find out why some cats won’t use their cat tree.
But even without that, there is sanitation to consider. I myself am a bit paranoid with my cat being in contact with a different cat’s old urine, saliva, etc, so I rarely buy used pet products.
However, as long as you completely disinfect and sanitize the cat tree you’ve purchased, and replace the more important aspects with something entirely brand new (carpets, plush toys, mats), you should be fine!
So can you recycle and reuse a cat tree? Yes, you can! But before you decide to dismantle and recycle your cat tree, consider donating it to a local cat rescue center instead. Especially if it stands strong and looks fairly new!
Alongside used toys, cat trees are among the best things to donate to your local cat shelter. Happy recycling!