water pouring into glass

Plastic is certainly an amazing substance and an integral part of many of our daily lives. It is lightweight and extremely versatile, making it ideal for so many different uses. As a result, global demand for plastics has skyrocketed in recent years to nearly 300 million metric tons globally.

The problem is that we are literally drowning in plastic pollution. The vast majority of plastics are produced from fossil fuels and some contain chemicals that cause cancer, birth defects, and impaired immunity. Sadly, nearly 8 million tons of plastic are dumped into our oceans each year and only a small fraction of plastics are even recycled.

One of the best ways to mitigate the harmful effects of plastic is to consume as little of it as possible to reduce your plastic footprint. Drink filtered water in a reusable water bottle instead of purchasing disposable water bottles. Wait, but aren’t most water filters made out of plastic?

The popular Brita pitchers and filters contain plastic. The filters reduce chlorine and remove cadmium and mercury in the water, but many contaminants remain. To make matters worse, the filters need to be replaced every 40 gallons. Let’s explore some alternatives to plastic pitcher-based water filters that produce little or no plastic waste.

Comparison Chart

To download our printable comparison chart, click the image below.

Earth911 Water Filter Comparison Chart

ZeroWater Filter

ZeroWater‘s 40-cup glass canister can disperse water while it is filtering and features a five-stage filtration system. The water filter itself is BPA-free and uses activated carbon and an ion exchange resin. This system includes a TDS (total dissolved solids) testing kit and the filters should be replaced when the reading exceeds “006.” The lifespan of the filter varies by use and local tap water quality, but these filters typically last 6 to 12 months. Both the filter and the dispenser have a lower cost than the Berkey filters, making them a great lower cost alternative.

The ZeroWater filtration system removes an impressive laundry list of pollutants including pesticides, herbicides, mercury, chlorine, chloramine, lead, chemicals, fluoride, and pathogens. Because the filters last a different amount of time depending on the household, it is harder to determine the cost per gallon of water filtration.

ZeroWater 40-cup Ready-Pour Glass Dispenser
ZeroWater 40-cup Ready-Pour Glass Dispenser

Berkey Filters

Berkey Filters is a pricier filtration system than some of the alternatives, but it contains a stainless steel body and the filters last far longer than other pitcher filtration options. Their filters also remove a variety of pollutants including volatile organic compounds (VOCs), heavy metals, chlorine, nitrates, bacteria, parasites, arsenic, pesticides, and other chemicals. There’s also an optional filter to remove fluoride.

Although the system cost is relatively high, the per gallon cost is relatively low because the filters don’t need to be replaced frequently. The water canister contains a water spigot, and according to online reviews, the metal spigot is worth the extra cost.

Big Berkey water filter
Big Berkey Water Filter


Soma has some great messages about protecting the environment and has some charitable giving programs through a nonprofit partner. Unfortunately, their products don’t seem to measure up to the Berkey or ZeroWater filtration systems. But the cost is significantly lower and they offer a glass carafe, although it has a small (6 cup) capacity. The filters are made of coconut shell carbon (like the Brita) with plant-based casing, but need to be replaced every 40 gallons. Like the Brita filter, Soma filters also seem to remove far fewer contaminants than other water filters. The list includes chlorine odor and taste, mercury, cadmium, zinc, and copper.

The products look stylish but are not necessarily highly functional. Online reviews state there are a variety of design flaws. The good news is that the company is a Certified B Corporation and the company gives back by helping people in need.

Soma Glass Carafe
Soma Glass Carafe

DIY: Refill Your Own Brita Filters

Brita filters contain two main components: an ion exchange resin to remove heavy metals and activated carbon to remove various impurities. Although Brita pitcher filters are not the greenest option, there are ways around this. If you have a used canister and then follow blogger Osas Obaiza’s suggestion to refill your own filters, this approach produces very little plastic waste. All you need is one spent Brita filter, activated carbon from a pet store, a drill, a funnel, and a polyethylene plug. Simply drill a hole, empty out the old contents, clean out the empty filter cartridge, refill it with activated carbon, and insert the plug.

Although this filter will remove fewer pollutants than the ZeroWater and Soma filters, it is certainly a lower cost approach. Even though the components contain plastic, this DIY approach generates very little plastic waste. The downside is that this addresses the carbon in the Brita filters but not the ion exchange resin.

DIY: Binchotan Charcoal

This is certainly the most artistic option on the list and it is quite simple. According to blogger Karen Ahn, all you need to do is place binchotan charcoal in a glass bottle for an hour and it “soaks up bacteria, absorbs smells, and releases minerals into the water. The sticks last for up to three months and can be boiled in water for 10 minutes to get another few months’ use out of them.” She recommends rinsing the charcoal and then placing it in boiling water for at least 10 minutes.

binchotan charcoal in glass water pitcher
DIY water filtration with binchotan charcoal

Feature image by Baudolino on Pixabay

Editor’s note: This article was originally published on February 26, 2019.

By Sarah Lozanova

Sarah Lozanova is an environmental journalist and copywriter and has worked as a consultant to help large corporations become more sustainable. She is the author of Humane Home: Easy Steps for Sustainable & Green Living, and her renewable energy experience includes residential and commercial solar energy installations. She teaches green business classes to graduate students at Unity College and holds an MBA in sustainable management from the Presidio Graduate School.