On Healthy Pet’s manufacturing floor, chief executive Ted Mischaikov sticks his hand under a small waterfall of orzo-shaped paper pellets, then pokes at the soggy crumbles in his palm. The pellets, used for cat litter, dog litter (yes, that’s a thing) and animal bedding, will be baked dry and hard in the next step, which also sanitizes the product. Mischaikov explains how the entire pellet — not just the ends — absorbs moisture.
When kitty has to go, the last thing you’re probably thinking about is sustainability. Not at Healthy Pet, the Ferndale-based international manufacturer, where purpose extends to the granular level. By utilizing the entire surface area, the pellet is much more efficient at absorbing liquid. Tiny leftover fines get repurposed into the mix as part of the company’s “zero waste” mission.
Heathy Pet’s bedding and litter, in brand names such as Okocat and Carefresh, start as natural fiber — wood and paper. “Our fibers don’t have any inks, plastics or polymers,” said Mischaikov, a former commercial fisherman and local developer.
Traditional litter uses clay, which is “unhealthy for your pet. We live five, six feet off the ground. That cat lives right in the material,” he said.
Big business, meet conscientious manufacturing. The $50 million company, a subsidiary of Germany’s J. Rettenmaier & Sohne Group, sells its products in more than 33,000 retail stores from North America to Africa. The 125-employee company, which also has a manufacturing plant in Georgia, won a safety citation for 2015 and earned gold and platinum status for 2016 from the Northwest Clean Air Agency for its green technology practices.
Small-footprint thinking looms large here. Healthy Pet, in partnership with Sustainable Connections and Puget Sound Energy, invested $300,000 to change to all-LED lighting. The company has reduced its landfill waste by more than 90 percent and operates without an industrial sewer. Used paper towels from employee bathrooms get repurposed in-house. Catchments capture rainwater for use at the plant. Just outside, the company’s electric car is charging up.
Healthy Pet’s litter and bedding is compostable after use and the natural fiber’s scent helps pet waste decompose without the smell or need for artificial perfumes like clay-based litter uses, said Mischaikov. He points to a box of litter. Everything but the handle can be composted or recycled, he said.
“We want to have a sustainable product but don’t have to have the consumer give up performance,” he said. The company wants to be the rule rather than the exception. “This is not a political or emotional plea. It’s common sense,” he said.