How to Recycle Water Filters

Medically Reviewed by Poonam Sachdev on January 23, 2023
5 min read

Many agree that recycling is a great way to reduce pollution, and recycling your water filters is no different. But, whether you have pitcher, faucet, or refrigerator filters, your curbside collection bin isn’t the right place to toss them. Fortunately, there are a few brand names that offer instructions on how to recycle their water filters properly. Find out more on how to recycle water filters in eco-friendly ways by also learning the purpose behind water filters and why recycling them is important. 

Safe water is a worldwide priority. Unfortunately, the World Health Organization reports that more than 2 billion people drink unsafe water from contaminated sources. Safe, clean water promotes good hygiene and health, serving to avoid digestive and respiratory diseases among many others.

The drinking water in your home can come from private wells or public water systems. Safe, uncontaminated water is important for your health, so most homes and businesses have access to an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-approved plumbing system. But if your water source is not overseen by the EPA, you may need your own water filter to reduce contaminants and safely drink.

There are many types of filters for your water. Some help to improve the taste while others are specifically designed to remove bacteria. While no filter is 100% effective, understanding how it works and the different types of filters available can help you decide on the right one for your needs.

What Is Filtration? Water filtration is the process in which water is cleaned of contaminants by some type of absorbent material. What exactly gets filtered from water depends on the contaminant’s size, amount, and electric charge of the contaminant. Depending on the kind of plumbing you have at home, your water may be pretreated at water treatment facilities with added chlorine, pH adjustments, and additives to protect the filter when water passes through it.

Types of Filters. There are several different types of filter technologies for drinking clean water:

  • Activated carbon: You’ll likely find this type of filter within at-home water pitchers or attached to a faucet. Activated carbon is a porous material made from charcoal, but it can also come from other sources like wood or coconut shells. Activated carbon filters are a popular choice for removing contaminants in water because of how highly absorbent they are, attracting and removing bacteria and some metals, such as lead, from water. 
  • Reverse osmosis: This may be the next step up for at-home water filters, and you’ll likely find units for purchase at your local home improvement retailers. These systems filter water by forcing it through the smaller pores of synthetic material, such as nylon. Reverse osmosis units tend to use more water to filter than what it produces for safe drinking, but the EPA notes that these units are best at removing disease-causing bacteria and most pollutants.
  • UV sterilization: Ultraviolet sterilization works differently than other filters. Instead of removing or attracting bacteria away from drinking water, UVC light uses radiation to kill bacteria in water. You may be able to find at-home portable UVC water sterilizers online or at camping-gear retailers.
  • Absolute 1-micron: If you have a weakened immune system, the CDC recommends that you use water filter systems that provide the lowest possible amount of germs in drinking water. Along with reverse osmosis units, absolute 1-micron filters are effective against these germs, such as Cryptosporidium — a gastrointestinal-causing parasite, because the pore size on these filters is 1 micron — one-millionth of a meter — or smaller. Bacteria like Cryptosporidium and any other contaminants larger than 1 micron won’t pass through the filter. Like the other types of filters, you may be able to find absolute 1-micron filters at online specialty water filter retailers.

Using water filters instead of bottled water is typically the preferred option when you want to be eco-friendly. But, filters don’t last forever, and they need to be replaced from time to time. Simply throwing filters away in your trash may not be best for the environment. 

For example, activated carbon filters eventually become saturated, no longer filtering bacteria effectively. Although the filter itself is not considered hazardous, the bacteria absorbed by the filters is biohazardous waste. This is why these filters are unsuitable for your curbside recycling bin, as your local facility may not have the federally required Resource Conservation and Recovery Act permit needed to handle hazardous waste. 

In short, what you’re filtering out of your drinking water could easily end up back into the environment if you don’t correctly dispose of the filter.

While you can’t put filters in with your regular recycling, and you likely don’t want to include them in your regular garbage, you can certainly find sites that may take your filters for proper disposal.

You can start by researching hazardous waste programs in your state that may take different types of water filters. The EPA’s website provides outside links to states with such programs. You may also find more local sites in your city, township, or village.

There’s no universal step-by-step process on how to recycle water filters. Aside from researching state or local hazardous recycling sites, consider contacting your water filter brand name, such as Brita, Epic Water Filters, or ZeroWater, and find out if they have water filter recycling programs. It may be as simple as mailing back old filters to them. 

But, you may use filter brands that don’t offer recycling programs. Think about contacting them and ask if they’ll still take your filters anyway. If that’s not an option for the company, try asking what they recommend for proper water filter disposal.

Be the change you want to see. Consider sending your water filters to available recycling programs to keep them out of landfills, protecting the land and water from hazardous wastes.

But, also consult with your health care professional about different water filter types and brands, so you can compare them to what’s best for your health needs.