Every couple of weeks, a cardboard tomb full of Dr. Elsey’s Cat Litter materializes at my doorstep. It comes in a stately rectangular package — about the size of a briefcase — and I almost threw my back out the first time I tried to pick it up. Dr. Elsey’s has become the cat litter du jour for countless urbanite feline owners across the country thanks to its airtight odor capturing seal and tidy fecal clumping texture. (Everyone loves it, even AllAboutCats.com!) What they don’t tell you is that a dense bundle of fragmented clay weighs something like 40 pounds. I dug my heels in and dragged the monolith across my living room floor, engendering a humbled respect for the delivery professionals who keep the supply chain floating. Seriously, who was I to ask for all of their bitter sacrifice just so the tuxedo cat currently hiding underneath the kitchen table is a little less stinky? Such gilded, aristocratic excess! Am I the bad guy?
Sure enough, after browsing the various online watering holes of the Amazon Prime working collective, I learned what I already knew in my heart: There is nothing a courier dreads more than the sight of Dr. Elsey’s.
“First Encounter With These, Puts Any Cases of Water I’ve Handled to Shame,” reads the headline of a recent post to r/AmazonDSPDrivers subreddit, where the many outsourced workers of the global next-day shipping ecosystem gather to air their woes and name their enemies. Attached is one of those deceptively lithe Dr. Elsey’s packages, and the comments rumble into consensus.
“That’s some bullshit in a box right there!”
“I cringe when I see those on anyone’s cart at loadout.”
“That’s got to be the heaviest litter I’ve ever carried.”
And so on, and so forth. You know the bamboozling terror of being made suddenly aware of an unconscious sin you’ve been complicit in for far too long? That’s how I felt after realizing every driver that’s been forced to haul boutique cat litter to my address absolutely hates my guts.
“February was the first time I got that stupid cat litter at loadout. I was pissed because I had five of them going to one house. I saw the label said they’re about 40 pounds each. They feel extremely heavy being so compactly packed, and the boxes have no handle cut outs or any easier way to move them besides getting them at a good enough angle to pick them up,” says Becca, a 25-year-old in New York who delivers for Amazon. “There is no easy strategy for Dr. Elsey’s. I toss them in the back of the van so I can easily wiggle them out the back and onto a dolly.”
I think we all know that cat litter can be pretty heavy. There are certain consumer products that automatically evince an emasculate whimper out of anyone who’s forced to load a shopping cart — charcoal bags, Bud Light 24-packs, the occasional cast-iron skillet. Litter, it should be said, is literally a plastic bag full of sand — it’s cumbersome in the same way wet cement is cumbersome. But Becca raises an important point in regards to Dr. Elsey’s unique dimensions. I’m speculating here, but the company must engage in some sort of vacuum-sealing mechanism at their distribution center, because they manage to stuff like, three gallons of litter into a 20-by-13 inch box. The package has the density of a fucking neutron star; a feat of incredible engineering that can also be easily underestimated when you’re in the middle of a hectic delivery rush.
“It’s a very unassuming looking box so I was pretty surprised at the weight,” says Will, a 30-year-old who also delivers for Amazon. “I literally said out loud: ‘You’ve got to be kidding, what is this new monstrosity?’”
Becca tells me that she only gets upset at customers when they’re ordering more than one shipment of Dr. Elsey’s at a time. A single 40-pound sack of cat litter is manageable, but two? Three? How much is your cat shitting, anyway? “It starts to get on my nerves,” she says. “And my back.” In general, Becca would like it if manufacturers could be a little bit more mindful in the utilitarian design of their merchandise. It’s one of the frequent oversights as the world enters this strange new horizon where everything — everywhere — is ferried on a next-day basis. The pandemic has created a legion of HelloFreshers, Capsulers and DoorDashers, and if the dystopia must take the shape of a global network of exhausted, contract-bound mailpersons, then their wellbeing should be of paramount concern.
“I feel like retailers could be more mindful of their packaging. Maybe adding heavy duty straps like other companies, or maybe only selling 20 pounds in a box instead of 40,” Becca continues. “Just shoving 40 pounds into the most compact packing isn’t always the most efficient, especially for the delivery driver’s sake.”
This is just one of the many sins that we’ll need to reckon with as we try to keep our household churning through an untold cavalcade of exploitative systems. Perhaps I could try to order less Dr. Elsey’s, or at least make a trip to the local grocery store and haul the load myself. By that same merit, I could try to purge the entirety of my overnight shipping habit, and remove myself from the strain the Amazon apparatus puts on both the earth and the human spirit.
It’s hard to know where to start in 2022, when merely turning on the kitchen lights makes you complicit in the slow death of the earth. But I beseech my fellow cat owners to make a stand. Seriously Dr. Elsey’s, can’t you do something to make the litter a little less heavy? Could you at least add a handle? For the love of god, haven’t our dispatchers suffered enough?