The blog formerly known as   Fake Plastic Fish
January 9, 2008

Take back the Brita filter campaign?

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!

I use Google Analytics to show me where Fake Plastic Fish’s traffic comes from, and sometimes it’s fun to look at the Search terms people have used to find this blog. Going through the list tonight, I found these 81 different related combinations. It’s a long list. Feel free to scroll down fast.

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Wow. These are all actual queries typed by people into a Search Engine. Many of them were used by multiple people. But they don’t represent all the people in North America trying to find out if their water filter cartridges can be recycled. No. These are ONLY the people who also happened to click on the Fake Plastic Fish link that came up on the search list. How many other people are out there trying to find out how to recycle their water filter cartridges and coming up empty-handed?

The point of this exercise is that I’m trying to gauge how much interest there would be in a campaign to urge Clorox, the company that owns the North American division (including Canada) of Brita, to develop a recycling program for the cartridges.

First, a few facts for those unfamiliar with this issue:

  • The Brita company was founded in Germany in 1966.
  • In 1992, Brita introduced the first recycling program for filter cartridges. The cartridges are processed at Brita’s plant in Germany, where the components are dismantled and reused. Read more about the Brita recycling process here.
  • In 2000, the entire North American division of the company was sold to the Clorox Corporation, headquartered in Oakland, CA. (FYI: I incorrectly stated in a previous post that this sale took place in 1988 based on an entry in Wikipedia. Won’t be getting info from that source again.)
  • Now, while the cartridges from the European company are still collected and recycled, the Brita cartridges from the U.S. and Canada are not. In June of 2007, I sent an email to Brita customer service asking why the American cartridges are not recycled when they are in Europe, and I received an unsatisfactory reply. So I wrote a follow-up email, and received another unsatisfactory reply, stating that the filter cartridges in the U.S. use a different technology than the European ones, but giving no other details.
  • In December of 2007, Clorox purchased Burt’s Bees in an attempt to enter the “green” market. In a press release in October 2007, Clorox Chairman and CEO Donald R. Knauss states, “With this transaction, we’re entering into a new strategic phase for our company, enabling us to expand further into the natural/sustainable business platform. The Burt’s Bees® brand is well-anchored in sustainability and health and wellness, and we believe it will benefit from natural and “green” tailwinds. It’s in an economically attractive category with a margin structure that will be highly accretive to Clorox. Combined with our new Green Works™ line of natural cleaning products, and Brita® water-filtration products, we can leverage Burt’s Bees’ extensive capabilities and credibility to build a robust, higher-growth platform for Clorox.”

My plea to Clorox is this: If you’d truly like to help the planet by entering the “green” marketplace, you could first begin by “greening” the products you already produce. Providing a take-back recycling program for your water filter cartridges would be a great step, especially considering that the model technology already exisits!

So why am I focusing on Brita rather than other water filter companies? First of all Brita has the #1 market share of pour-through filter cartridges in the U.S. and Canada. It’s the #1 faucet-mount filter in Canada and the #2 faucet-mount filter in the U.S. (I don’t know who is #1. This information comes from page 14 of Clorox’s 2007 Annual Report.)

Second, the recycling infrastructure exists within the European branch of the company already.

And third, Clorox is obviously making a bid to appeal to environmentally-conscious consumers at this time. It would be nice for them to put their money where their mouth is.

So, with this information, I’d like to take a little poll here to find out how much interest there would be in putting energy into such a campaign.

RESIDENTS OF NORTH AMERICA ONLY PLEASE.

[Update: The poll is closed. You can read all about the successful campaign results here.]

43 comments
Anonymous
Anonymous

Hi Beth,Thanks for getting the ball rolling. -Christina from MD

DP
DP

It's so good to see people care about the environment. I for one advocate the recycling of plastic all the time.

Anonymous
Anonymous

Recent news press release states that there are certain locations of the Whole Foods stores that participate in the program. I have checked one listed:Whole Foods (former Capers)in Kitsilano, (Vancouver, BC) on 4th Avenue, 604 739-6676. They said they don't. Where is a place in Vancouver to recycle these filters. It is ridiculous to claim that they save environment by taking plastic water bottles off the market and dumping the filters instead. Plastic bottles are at least recyclable.Ewa Izdebski

Anonymous
Anonymous

soI'm in. I would like to see this program in our country.Bob nj

Lenea
Lenea

Hi, Terry,I am so happy that there are people out there pushing for the filters to be recycled. I wonder what would happen if I just start to send the filters back to the company?Linda

c
c

The one and only thing is WHY IS CLOROX trying to enter the "Green Market". Unbelievable.Because it is a mulit-billion dollar industry that everyone wants a piece of. Becareful especially with Burt's Bees because the products will change!Also, be very cautious when purchasing vitamin supplements because the pharmaceutical company also wants a piece of the pie and several companies are taking over vitamin companies. Research, research, research and ban all COLOROX products.They produce BLEACH which is the worst fort the environment!!!

Anonymous
Anonymous

I think there is more too it than simply opening the filters and recycling the plastic.The filters has been capturing and concentration any toxins in the water including heavy metals over a period of months. Therefore the used filters are actually quite toxic and should be disposed of properly

Stephanie
Stephanie

What about soaking the filters in vinegar once in a while to be able to reuse them?

Anonymous
Anonymous

Does anyone know how long you can actually use the filters? I know what the company suggest, but that could just be a marketing ploy. Can they really be rinsed out and reused? How long does the carbon stay fresh? I am glad to see there are so many people out there that feel like I do when it comes to reusing and recycling. Thanks.

coco
coco

I am going through my 3rd recycling puperty now (but it does not make me any younger).Growing up in central Europe we soon got educated in recycling just about everything. We had a natural control system (our next door neighbors) who regularly lifted up and shooke our trash bags for any metal or glass sounds. But that's just the inborn police-blood in most Swiss People. One of the reasons actually why we moved to southern Spain where we were thrown back into an earlier age. Nobody recycled anything! People smiled at my big tootes I brought to the supermarkets and I was kind of a crazy person - until they discovered RECYCLING! But that was after 9 years and just when we prepared to go to the USA. I was sure everything was going to be allright. We were moving to an exemplary country...little did I know that I was about to start all over again. Picture me at Walmart at the register with my huge tootes! Yeah - it was a long an rocky road but today I have a smile on my face when I pick up that old spanish toote and put it in front of the cashier at Walmart watching them filling it up! It just took the oil to get more expensive- we should have known that earlier! May in Texas.

Anonymous
Anonymous

The activated carbon in the filter needs to be recycled. According to Brita's website, Europeans are recycling them, because the EU requires companies to recycle. It's called producer responsibility. California is beginning to use Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR)in upcoming waste and recycling regulations.This is a slow movement in the US, we will get there if the public pushes hard enough.I believe what you are suggesting is what fish tank owners do every month or so. They take activated carbon and pour it into a cloth bag and slip it into their filter housing. Unfortunately, that perfectly good carbon is thrown in the trash. Carbon is what keeps most organics from contaminating our water and air. We should recycle it!

Anonymous
Anonymous

Hi Beth, what if Brita made the filters refillable?I got the idea from this instructable how to refill Brita filterIf Brita modified their current filter with threads so the top portion screws onto the lower portion then we would just unscrew, dump, wash, refill and screw it back on. This wouldn't address the wasted beads though but at least the plastic portion gets reused, which is better than recycling anyhow. It would also avoid the gasoline use and GHG's emissions caused by collecting the filters and wouldn't place anymore burden on the company, they can simply sell the refill materials in bulk.What do you think?

Fake Plastic Fish
Fake Plastic Fish

HI Steph B. Yes, we are working on this and expect to have a web site and petition going within a week or two. Please contact me with your email address. I'm at beth[at]fakeplasticfish[dot]com.

Stephanie
Stephanie

Hello Beth and good for you with this website. I just got back from living in Europe for four years where recycling is a way of life. I am finding it difficult to adjust to the laziness of how things are done here in Connecticut and frustrated that my efforts seem futile. When I called Brita a year ago to ask them why I couldn't recycle the filters and why they did not deem themselves responsible for providing a solution to the problem, they were far from helpful and felt no obligation to justify their actions ( or inactions). I also emailed the Biggest Loser to point out that their biggest sponsor for the show was falsely advertising themselves as a responsible company. I got no response there either, and I was hoping that pressure from a larger source would be helpful. Can we make this false advertising more public? Maybe humiliation would be a good way to go. I would appreciate a reply though I understand that you may not have the time to reply to everybody. I feel helpless and I just want to scream and shout about all the hypocrisy of megacorporations that want nothing more than to reap millions of dollars while hiding behind goodie-type motives. Steph B. in Connecticut

Joy
Joy

Thank you for your efforts! I wonder what the Biggest Loser publicity has done for Brita and if that would move things forward. Great step for them to do but now what is my question for me and others with filters.Joy in Illinois

Anonymous
Anonymous

Thanks for taking this on, Beth. I was surprised to learn that Brita doesn't seem to provide any options at all about recycling these filters. Seems pretty odd for a company promoting fresh drinking water to be insensitive to the effects of their product on the environment. Perhaps it's time to just stop using the filters.Keith

Anonymous
Anonymous

Last summer I was in France, and purchased the best water filter pitcher ever! (It was NOT Brita.) It had the same sort of filter as Brita, but when you needed to replace it, you would just unscrew the top, pour out the filter particles, and refill with fresh ones! It was so great to not have to throw away that darn plastic thing each time! We need these in the USA! They already exist out there, we just need someone to sell them here! (Sorry for all the exclamation points, but I feel pretty strongly about this.)Plus the other good thing is that it is structured in such a way that the filter sits in a little pool of water itself so you never have to panic about the filter getting dry like I do with my Brita when the water level gets low.

Fake Plastic Fish
Fake Plastic Fish

Hello dorkisimo. I just tonight added an update to the top of this post. It tells you what to do if you'd like to actively participate or if you just would like updates.Beth

dorkismo
dorkismo

Hello, I'd love to join this project. If there's a place to sign up for updates, please let us know where it is ...

Micki
Micki

I work for www.ecocycle.org and have fielded the question of filter recyclability on our recycling hotline. I thought it was a good question so I started some research and ended up here. All your points are great, and Clorox is gonna have to prove they ARE really green to get me on their side so let's do it. I have a great forum for getting info to people, since we're a national resource for recycling info.

Suzaniel
Suzaniel

Suzanne and Daniel said:We just went to change our filter this morning and, being relatively new Brita users, thought - oh - where can we send these back for recycling. Very glad to find your blog. This is ridiculous, and we should be able to move Clorox on this issue, given how desperately they want to be greener and perceived as greener. I'm going to make a few calls to see which execs we should reach at Clorox. We will happily save our filters for the moment, and join the campaign. How insane, if we can't get them to recycle - we will find another solution other than Brita.

Nicky
Nicky

Thank you for that - I myself am trying to find a recycling plant and am very surprised that there isn't one. I guess I'll dry up my old filter and keep it until there is something to do with it.-Nicky, Toronto CANADA

Anonymous
Anonymous

Hey,I too was looking to recycle my brita filter and found your blog. I don't know if you know this already but the NBC TV show The Biggest Loser has mad a deal with brita to use their filters and reusable bottles in an effort to rid their show of bottled water. Their website or fanbase may be a good place to introduce this recycling idea.

Shane Duan
Shane Duan

Hi,I was also looking for recycle Brita filter and found your blog. Thanks so much for taking the time and effort!I'll put your blog on my reader and keep an eye on the progress. Please do post if you need any help.Thanks again

Fake Plastic Fish
Fake Plastic Fish

Hi, Anonymous. I'm not sure how the cartridges can be opened to clean out. Can you please describe in more detail? The ones that I've used had to be cut open with a saw in order for me to see what was inside.

Anonymous
Anonymous

Why don't you just keep reusing the same filters? I take mine out every few months, soak it in warm soapy water, shake the heck out of it and stick it back in. Once you fill and dump it a couple of times, it's good as new. The girlfriend buys new filters; I hide them in the basement and smile knowingly when she comments on the difference the new filter makes...

Cara
Cara

My daughter who lives in NYC uses Brita filters and would be very happy to have a way to recycle the cartridges. I live in Tallahassee and we are very fortunate to have "bottled water" quality for drinking right from the tap. I've linked to your campaign post in case anyone here wants to join you! CaraGreen Tallahassee

Fake Plastic Fish
Fake Plastic Fish

Hi Rejin. I agree that people should test their water to see if they even need a filter in the first place. I'm not advocating using these filters. But the fact is that many, many people use them, and with the current push against bottled water, many more people will use them. Therefore, there ought to be a way to recycle them.

Rejin L
Rejin L

I just think people should test their water, rather than perpetually buying Brita (or other) filters "just in case." That is a lot of plastic, and a lot of money for Clorox, that may be completely unnecessary. Unfortunately, I don't know how easy it is to find a lab to test water.

Fake Plastic Fish
Fake Plastic Fish

I'd like to address some of these issues. Water filters eliminate more than just chlorine. Some people have lead pipes and need to remove lead from their water. The water provided by the city might be very clean, but if the pipes are old, the water can be contaminated when it enters the home.As far as I know, the European Brita company recycles the filter materials there in Germany. From what I read on the web site, it doesn't sound like the plastic is being sent to China. I could be wrong, but I got the impression that the materials were all recycled right there.Yes, it's insane to get beeswax imported from Europe, another reason to skip Burt's Bees products. And Burbanmom, "my teeth are going green" is scary, but I hear that Preserve toothbrushes are great for that problem. Don't you wish you had a way to contact the people who click on your site using search terms like that???

just ducky
just ducky

Oh my gosh! This is totally off topic, but very much topical for last Friday's post--my husband was watching a show on the Discovery Channel entitled "Some Assembly Required" and they did a piece on Burt's Bees...guess what?...it said that they used to get all of their beeswax from the states, but now they need so much they IMPORT IT FROM EUROPE!!! As soon as he heard that he yelled for me to come in the room and he hit the rewind (DVR/Tivo can actually be good things at times)and we both listened to it again. And sure enough--beeswax imported from Europe! That is insane...

Mazzajo
Mazzajo

...and so are the Australians... sort of... today the Australian Environment Minister has stated free plastic supermarket bags will be phased out by the end of 2008 - they will probably still be available for purchase (not actually banned) but still! Progress!

Burbanmom
Burbanmom

OK, everyone else is sticking to the important facts of this post, but I want to share with you my favorite search term ever used to find my blog: "My teeth are going green".Feel better about your life now?

terrible person
terrible person

Hey, this is interesting. We've just seen how plastic bags get shipped to China for recycling under awful conditions. But the Chinese are banning plastic bags themselves. Sometimes you've got to hand it to authoritarian governments! Now if they could just ban the recycling sweatshops ...

Rejin L
Rejin L

I agree with Asrai on this. Because even if they could be recycled, would the filters end up being shipped to China, to be melted by unprotected workers?This might be a place to reduce rather than recycle. If you are not sure whether your water is safe, have it tested. They say most North Americans have access to clean drinking water.

Anonymous
Anonymous

How about "Clean Up, Clorox!"Juli in NYC

terrible person
terrible person

BTW, "take back the Brita filter" sounds a little too much as if we're reclaiming something that once belonged to us and should again, e.g., "Take back the night," rather than "Hey, Clorox, take them back" or "Let's take them back to Clorox." Is there another way to phrase it?

terrible person
terrible person

I saw ads yesterday for a new cup from Dixie (the company, not the place). It showed blissful suburbanites dancing around (at first I assumed it must be an ad for an antidepressant) with cups with sip-through plastic lids, just like what you get at Starbucks or soon, McDonald's. According to product descriptions, they don't use any styrofoam. (Of course, the lid is non-recyclable plastic.) They're entirely paper, and their thickness eliminates the need for double-cupping. I guess they can be composted. Still, why can't people get reusable mugs, like the one Beth bought at Tully's?

Asrai
Asrai

Don't use filters. If you leave water sitting out for 24 hours the chlorine dissipates naturally. Not as fast, but if you plan ahead and have extra containers it's cheaper and plastic free.

terrible person
terrible person

And fourth, the headquarters of Clorox is only a couple of miles from our home in Oakland! We could easily stage demonstrations there. Or have everyone send us their Brita filters, and when we've collected millions and millions, dump them all in front of their building! And film it!

Anonymous
Anonymous

Hi, Beth-- I'm ready, willing, and able, and already have a used filter set aside to send your way if and when you want it.I really wonder if Clorox is not already planning a take-back program. Even if they are, a strong statement from consumers will only help them push things along. And if they aren't, well darn it, they need to get moving!I called the Brian Lehrer show on WNYC this morning to ask the guest about Clorox and Brita. Brian had on Daniel Esty (Yale Law School professor and the director of the Center for Business and Environment at Yale and the co-author of Green to Gold: How Smart Companies Use Environmental Strategy to Innovate, Create Value, and Build Competitive Advantage (Yale University Press, 2006) talks about efforts to regulate green marketing." It was a short segment, but with lots of hopeful information-- big business is getting the message. The segment should be available for listening online later today: http://www.wnyc.org/shows/bl/episodes/2008/01/09Juli in NYC

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  3. [...] about the environment. So to wrap all their produce in plastic is just hypocritical. That was why I went after Brita, too, because Brita was advertising itself as an environmentally friendly alternative to bottled [...]