Have you recently switched from bottled water to tap water? It’s a good move, environmentally speaking. Single-use plastics account for 40% of the nearly 350 million metric tons of plastic produced annually across the globe. Coca-Cola alone produces the equivalent of 200,000 water bottles a minute.
Many people who forgo bottled water find they don’t like the taste of regular tap water and opt to use water filters. Water filters are a simple way to improve the taste of tap water and to filter out common contaminants like chlorine and lead.
Water Filters Need to Be Replaced Periodically
Water filters have to be replaced regularly in order to keep working as intended. Each style and type of filter operates differently and their replacement times vary. Luckily many water filters have some way of alerting you — such as a blinking light — when they need to be replaced.
The question then becomes: What do I do with my old water filter — are there recycling options?
Types of Water Filters
Before we get into recycling options, let’s be sure we’re taking into account all of the water filters you should replace periodically. Most of us are familiar with the 1- to 2-gallon pitchers that you fill with tap water and run through the filter before drinking.
Here are some other types of water filters you may have in and around your home:
- Faucet-mounted filters
- Cartridges for refrigerator filters
- Under-the-sink filters
- Faucet filters
- Whole house filters
You probably don’t have all of these, but if you have even a few, that can add up to quite a few water filters. It’s worth looking at where you can recycle them.
Options for Recycling Water Filters
Unfortunately, many water filter manufacturers have discontinued their recycling programs. Mavea has closed its program and now refers customers to their local municipalities. Preserve has also closed its Gimme 5 recycling program.
Hydros has partnered with TerraCycle to create a free mail-back recycling program that accepts any Hydros filter. Request an envelope, fill it with Hydros filters, and ship it back using the prepaid return label. The program is currently limited to the contiguous U.S.
ZeroWater has a recycling program for used ZeroWater 5-stage filter cartridges, as explained in the website’s FAQ. Complete ZeroWater’s form and pay for shipping two or more full-size filters, and ZeroWater will send you a coupon for a discount on your next filter pack.
Editor’s note July 14, 2022: After this article was published, a waiting list was added to Brita’s free recycling program with TerraCycle and there is no indication when it will recommence.
What About Compostable Water Filters?
There are a few brands out there that are working on creating water filters that have at least partially compostable and/or biodegradable filter components and reusable plastic casings. Most water filters require that both the plastic casing and the inner spongey material (carbon or bamboo) be replaced. TAPP and FIL2R have developed filters that have reusable plastic casings and replaceable filters.
The question of what to do with the inner filter remains. TAPP calls its filters biodegradable and compostable. The company notes that its filters “can be disposed of with organic waste,” which should then make their way to an industrial composting facility. Not everyone has access to those facilities, in which case most people would throw them in the trash. FIL2R states in their sales video that you can throw the activated carbon filter into your home compost pile. You may want to question the wisdom of adding material that has potentially trapped lead, chlorine, and mercury to your home compost.
In theory, recycling should result in recovered resources that are usable and marketable. Plastic can be melted down to create plastic pellets for manufacturing. Electronics can be mined for their precious metals. Textiles can be shredded and made into insulation or furniture stuffing.
Markets are unpredictable, though, and oftentimes recycling facilities can’t recoup their labor and infrastructure costs from selling materials alone. Also, for harder-to-recycle materials, many facilities don’t have the proper machinery to recover materials. That’s why there are recycling facilities that charge for their services.
Water filter recycling programs that charge a fee are one option to consider if all other options don’t work out.
One company, recyclewaterfilters.com, recycles all kinds of water filters, including reverse osmosis, refrigerator, and even pool filters. It accepts over 15 brands of filters. The instructions are relatively simple, but you do need to have an order number from the company and its shipping label visible on the outside of the box. The shipping label for a 12”x12”x 5.5” package is $7.99. For multiple shipping labels, there is a small discount. (This can be a USPS flat rate mailer or similar box.)
Additionally, TerraCycle currently has a Zero Waste Pouch that costs $47 and a Zero Waste Box for $121 for recycling any type of water filter. Shipping is included in the cost.
Check Local Options
There might be local options for hard-to-recycle items like water filters. Call your own curbside recycler, local recycling center, or your department of public works. Any of these may be able to point you in the right direction if they don’t accept water filters themselves.
You can also refer to Earth 911’s recycling database. Type in “water filters” and your ZIP code to find local facilities that take water filters. It’s always a good idea to call before you make a trip, though. Recycling programs frequently make changes to items they accept.
This article was updated on July 15, 2022.