We have an insatiable appetite for new and novel fibers. We’ve created yarns made from corn and bamboo. We’ve seen yarns dusted with jade, laced with copper, and even fortified with crushed crab shells and seaweed. So it should come as no surprise when I tell you about a new company that has just launched a line of yarns made with recycled kitty litter.
Based in Urbana, Illinois, the company is called PurrFect Yarns. It was founded by inveterate knitter and former R&D scientist Patricia Krapsch—who also happens to have a household full of cats.
“It really bothered me that I couldn’t easily flush my used kitty litter down the toilet, nor could I spread it on my garden,” she told me. “Every week I’d carry huge plastic garbage bags of used kitty litter out to the curb, and the waste really bothered me. So I thought, hey, I’m a scientist. I should do something about this.”
Leaping into Litter
Krapsch accepted early retirement from Proctor & Gamble four years ago and jumped head-first into the kitty litter world, developing and refining a now-trademarked process for transforming mountains of domestic pet waste into beautiful skeins of yarn. The result is FeLon®, a revolutionary new fiber composed of recycled kitty litter.
You’ll soon be able to play with this fiber yourself when PurrFect’s flagship yarn, Kitty, ships to stores. This multiple-ply yarn is composed of 46% cotton, 22% microfiber, 13% polyester, 5.75% Tencel, and 13.25% FeLon®. Kitty is currently available in three weights: DK, worsted, and bulky.
While Krapsch’s own cats provided sufficient litter for the initial experiments, the company soon had to expand its sourcing of raw materials to adequately meet demand. The company first worked with Illinois animal shelters but has now established kitty litter recycling centers in Sacramento, Phoenix, Atlanta, and right outside the company’s headquarters in Urbana. More centers are in negotiations now and should be rolled out by early 2010, and plans are also underway to issue yarn credits for each pound of litter delivered to a recycling center.
Krapsch is particularly proud of the manufacturing process, which, in her words, “elevates ‘green’ to a whole new level.” As the first entry in what will undoubtedly be a highly competitive market, Krapsch is reluctant to reveal too many details about the process she has developed for converting used kitty litter into knitting yarn. But she was able to reveal the following secrets.
From Poop to Pullover
The process begins with the collection and sorting of used kitty litter into two high-level categories: conventional and clumping. The clumping litter is first sent to a Texas facility to be treated with disodium hydrogen phosphate and then allowed to age for six weeks before being shipped back to Illinois, where it is blended with the conventional litter, fed into a kiln and baked at more than 2000 degrees for over 48 hours.
The resulting matter is then fed into three progressively smaller crushing machines before being blended with a dilute solution of hydrofluoric acid, aliphatic hydrocarbons, paraffin wax, butane, and several other secret ingredients. Once fully blended, the liquid is kept at a temperature of 300 degrees for more than 160 hours before being shipped to a facility in Wyoming, where it is extruded into a bath of acetone. The resulting fibers are chopped into short lengths, carded together, combed, run through a pin-drafting machine, and then shipped to a spinning mill in Florida where the fiber is finally transformed into yarn.
“When you wear this fiber, you can really feel good about what you’re doing for Mother Earth,” smiles Krapsch. “Landfills will no longer be clogged with all those plastic bags!” She adds, “It also means a lot to be able to share a little bit of my beloved Chuckles and Miss Puffycakes with the world.”
The Wonders of Waste
FeLon® has several unique characteristics that make it an especially desirable material to wear against our bodies. For starters, it is extraordinarily absorbent—its clay composition allows the fiber to absorb more than 90% of its weight in moisture before it begins to feel wet, while wool can only absorb some 30% of its weight in moisture before it feels wet.
Second, the natural enzymes in FeLon® allow it to neutralize foul odors, making this fiber ideal for socks.
And third, FeLon® has non-tracking qualities that result in the fiber staying put—which your garment won’t shed onto the furniture and other clothing.
Originally published April 1, 2009