The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish
June 27, 2007

Water Filters & my letter to Brita

04/14/2008 Update: If you’ve reached this page because you want to know how to recycle Brita filter cartridges in North America, please visit http://www.takebackthefilter.org for more information about the campaign to urge Clorox (owner of Brita in North America) to develop a take-back recycling program for these cartridges!

So I really need your input on this one! What method of water filtration do you use and why? Are you able to recycle the filter? One of the items in my plastic waste pile from last week was a very heavy used Brita water filter cartridge. What to do with it? I checked Brita’s web site and found out that in Britain, they have a recycling program. However, there was no mention of recycling on the U.S. web site, so I sent the following letter and received the following response:

Note sent on web site contact form: http://www.brita.com/contact_form_us.php
Re: Brita On Tap System
Questions/Comments: I understand that Brita filters can be recycled in Europe. Can they be recycled in the US? Is there any address to send them to?

Thanks,
Beth Terry

—————————————–

June 27, 2007
Ms. Beth Terry
[Address Omitted]
Reference Number: 4959167

Dear Ms. Terry,

Thank you for contacting us about Brita On Tap Filter – Regular. We always appreciate hearing from our consumers.

We appreciate your interest in our product, as well as your concerns about the environment. The BRITA water filter system’s ion-exchange resin removes heavy metals from your water by an actual exchange; that is, hydrogen ions are released into the water to replace the ions of such potentially hazardous substances as lead and copper. Because the BRITA filter is designed to trap these contaminants, it is not considered recyclable using available technology. Nonetheless, we do share your concerns, and we make every attempt to use product formulations and packaging which will be safe and effective, while at the same time producing a minimal environmental impact. I would like to take this opportunity to describe some of the actions we have taken.

At BRITA we recognize that recycling and solid waste reduction are the most viable long-term solutions for our solid waste problem, so we have tried to focus our efforts in these directions. We use recycled packaging material whenever possible. The paper used for most of our inserts contains 35% post-commercial and 15% post-consumer recycled paper. In addition, the scrap plastic generated in the production of BRITA systems is reground and used again for new parts. Both of these methods reduce the amount of waste going to our landfills. We are doing our part to reduce the amount of heavy metal contaminants in landfills by using printing ink with reduced metal content on our packaging.

Of course, reuse and recycling are not the only methods for reducing solid waste. We have come to recognize that packaging materials can often be reduced without compromising durability. For instance, while conversion of our BRITA Standard carton from a dual structure to a single corrugated carton resulted in approximately 6% reduction in material, we have found that the new cartons provide very effective protection for the product during shipping.

I hope this information reassures you that the people at BRITA share your concern for the environment.

Again, thank you for contacting us.

Sincerely,

Hal Frankford
Consumer Response Representative
Consumer Services

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So as you can see, he didn’t even bother addressing the point about the filters being recyclable in Europe. Therefore, I sent this follow-up question today:

Date: Wed, 27 Jun 2007 19:22:09 -0700 (PDT)
From: “Beth Terry”
Subject: Re: Reference Number: 4959167
To: brita@consumerreply.com

Thank you for your prompt response. I have a follow-up question. Do the Brita filters sold in Europe use a different technology from the ones sold in the U.S.? I found the following question and answer on the European Brita web site:

“Are Brita cartridges recyclable?
All components of the Brita cartridge are recyclable. Cartridges returned to Brita will be returned to our own recycling plant in Germany where the component parts are separated and processed for secondary use. Cartridges can be returned via our Freepost address below: BRITA RECYCLING, FREEPOST NAT17876, Bicester, OX26 4BR.”

Is there some reason that the U.S. filters cannot be recycled but the European ones can? I am really trying to find a way to be as ecologically responsible as I can.

Thanks,
Beth Terry

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In addition, I sent an e-mail today to several other water filter companies asking whether their filters can be recycled. I found 2 companies online that advertise that they recycle their filters, however there are problems with both. Abundant Earth has a recycling program for their filters, which use copper-zinc (KDF) in combination with coconut shell carbon. But another company, Aquasana, says that they “no longer use KDF-55 in drinking water filters because high levels of copper are not good for the brain.” That’s it. No citation or other reference. Don’t know what that means. (BTW, I e-mailed Aquasana today to find out if their filters are recyclable. I’m guessing not.)

The other company that advertises a filter recycling program is TerraFlo. However, a statement on their home page indicates that they haven’t been taking any new orders since January of this year. Also, it’s very odd that nowhere on their site do they tell you what kind of filtration method is used. (Unless I missed it. It’s not in the FAQ.)

I’ve been reading about other methods such as reverse osmosis and distillation, which seem to be harmful because they leach all of the beneficial minerals out of the water.

So I need help. What method do you use to filter water? What do you do with the used filter?
 

15 comments
beth
beth

I know this is an older post and I just happened across it (just bought your book, fantastic!), so I thought I'd pitch in. You're right about distilled and reverse osmosis, they do remove the healthy minerals. So does "ion exchange" if it's a softener. The best method is to get a really good carbon filter, so it keeps the minerals and removes all the crap. My own filter is from Environmental Water Systems. Definitely a fantastic filter, and their plastic is all recyclable and BPA-free, and the filters are natural and recyclable. Hope that helps!

Shannon
Shannon

Brita filters are useless anyway. They don't remove any truly harmful chemicals such as fluoride. Either get a better filter or skip it altogether - you are wasting your money on Brita.

water ionizers
water ionizers

Water ionizers are used for the general purpose of purifying the water that comes from our taps and it has been recommended by most health experts.

Probono
Probono

I read all the posts about the Brita filter with interest. My husband insisted we could send them back to Brita but now I know that's only possible in the UK.I'm pleased that Brita don't ship US cartridges to Germany for recycling because that wouldn't make sense - but I know Roger gone green is right - US law is the culprit here. It's not law so they don't have to provide a facility - the filters are all the same.The only way to reduce filter waste it seems is not to use them at all. My question is does ALL tap water really needs to be filtered? The water where we are 'stinks' of flouride and it makes me gag to drink it so I do filter, but honestly is it the same eveywhere?I hope the folks writing to Clorox in Canada get some response on when they're going to get a recycle plant here.... otherwise mine's in the fridge for the forseable future.

Fake Plastic Fish
Fake Plastic Fish

Hello, S.R.G.,Here is the address for Brita Canada:Brita Canada Corporation150 Biscayne CrescentBrampton, ON L6W 4V3I'd love for you to cc me a copy of your letter if you wouldn't mind. I'm keeping track of how many letters get sent out and to whom. Not necessary but would be sincerely appreciated.Beth

Anonymous
Anonymous

Do you have an address for Clorox in Canada? I would like to send them a hard copy letter on filter recycling, and maybe some used filters to emphasize my point.Thanks;S.R.GNovar, Ontario

Anonymous
Anonymous

This conversation sure is certainly interesting, although rather unfortunate I think to hear. I was considering purchasing one of the Brita pitcher systems, (as the tap water in my area comes out like it is mixed with milk), but now I will need some more information about all of this.

Pat G
Pat G

Hi Beth, I just moved from the UK and am really surprised I can't recycle these cartridges here - they appear identical. Looks like Brita need to be hassled here!Pat

Luke
Luke

I had a contradictory reply - after prompting them. They really need to get their act together and agree their responses.Sent: Tuesday, 18 September 2007Hi Luke, We would not recommend using the contents of a spent filter cartridge on edible plants such as herb or chilli. As the food based carbon has been used to filter pollutants, it's best used for decorative plants only. We will forward your suggestions for inclusion on the website's FAQs. Kind regards, Customer ServiceBRITA Water Filter Systems

Luke
Luke

I got a prompt response from them as promised. They presented my idea of putting the beads on the garden as their own and didn't address the question of contamination or confirm what to do with the plastic. but they did offer a bonus suggestion:Dear LukeEnvironmental responsibility is central to BRITA's philosophy and therefore we have developed the world's first household water filter cartridge recycling unit in Europe. In the next few years BRITA will extend this into countries where the benefit outweighs the transport cost to the environment. When a filter has expired it can be placed in the refrigerator for the next month or so to absorb odours (such as cheese, onions, garlic), after which the filter can be cut open and the contents added to the garden or a pot-plant as mulch.RegardsBRITA Customer ServiceI replied thus:BRITA Customer Service,Thank you for your response. The idea about odour absorption is an excellent one. Thank you also for confirming my idea about adding the contents to the garden. Although I am still concerned about what happens to the absorbed chemicals in the filter particles especially after adding a few filters worth to the same pot. Can the chemicals be consumed by the plant and then by humans in the case of a herb or chili plant etc.?Also, as mentioned, in my first email I could not find any suggestions on your web site including in your FAQs. Perhaps you could add these two re-uses of the filters to the FAQ section of your web-site.I look forward to your response.Regards,Luke Clark.

Beth in the Fake Plastic Fish Tank
Beth in the Fake Plastic Fish Tank

I'm glad that others are writing to Brita about this issue. Maybe we are just the tip of the iceberg. I'm hoping that many other customers are putting pressure on them as well.

Luke
Luke

I happened upon your blog because I have just changed my first Britta filter and wondered what the hell to do with it. I'm English but have been living in Australia for less than 6 months so every day questions like this are less obvious to answer. Like the US web site, the Aussie Britta web-site doesn't mention recycling either. So I submitted the following questions to them:I recently purchased a Jug using the Maxtra filters and today I changed the filter. Then I was faced with a dilemma; what do I do with the old filter?I don't think you can put the whole filter in the domestic recycling. The plastic carries a 5 in a triangle indicating that it is recyclable but what about the beads contained therein?Firstly, is there a way, as in Europe, to return the whole filter for recycling. If not, can I remove the beads to recycle the plastic with our domestic collection? If I do remove the beads, what can I do with them? Can I put the beads on the garden, or could that lead to a contamination risk of some kind?I am keen to find an answer to help uphold your green credentials.Regards,Luke Clark.Melbourne, VIC.Their web site responded with this:Your e-mail has been submitted. If you have requested a reply or information, we will endeavour to respond by the next business day.Thanking you,BRITA Customer ServiceI'll let you know what happens.

About the Artist...
About the Artist...

Hi Beth,Great blog! Keep up the good work! We've been using undersink water filters in our house and for sure, it's frustrating to throw the old ones away. For a while, I was using them in my artwork to make paper-mache characters, but after realizing how much water I was wasting doing that, I stopped. I'll definitely bookmark your blog and see if you ever get any satisfying answers from the filter companies!bobbi c.Leander, TX

Roger, Gone Green
Roger, Gone Green

I expect that you will find out that it is not that the European filters are any different at all, or if so the differences are trivial. Rather, European laws tend to assign responsibility for waste products to the originator of the product, i.e., the manufacturer. I'm not up on the details, but I have heard something to the effect that IF your product is not accepted back and, in fact, recycled by you, the manufacturer, there are tremendous taxes levied -- which may, in fact, make the product too expensive to sell -- especially if you bring an American "its the buyers problem" to your product life cycle design. In short, it may be that they recycle them in Europe because they have to, not because they care to. Just an idea. . .

Ken Ott
Ken Ott

Hey Beth,I share your concerns about Brita filters! I use them a lot but am frustrated at having to throw out these plastic and carbon items as landfill "waste." That is just not efficient, nor is it biomimicry.We need to have a responsible way to filter our water. It may cost more upfront but I'm sure there is a way.Let me know what you learn!Cheers,ken [at] sustainlane [dot] com