German company BRITA is a well-known manufacturer of water filter jugs and bottles. Households across the world rely on BRITA to filter unwanted substances from their tap water, including calcium, magnesium, mercury, lead, and plastic microparticles.
Replaceable BRITA filter cartridges do the hard work of filtering purer, better-tasting water.
But what happens to BRITA cartridges after they are expired? Do you know how to recycle BRITA filters? With BRITA recommending changing the filters every four weeks, the number of filters discarded by a household will soon add up. Are they only fit for the landfill, or is there a way to recycle them? This guide will explain how to recycle BRITA filters and save these useful cartridges from your household waste.
The challenges of recycling BRITA filters
Filtering your tap water at home with a BRITA filter is one of the most effective ways of reducing the number of single-use plastic bottles you use. BRITA should have great ‘green’ credentials because of this, but unfortunately, many of the BRITA cartridges that must be replaced every four to eight months are simply thrown in the trash.
According to Phox, over 100 million disposable water filter cartridges end up as landfill waste each year. For many households, the recycling options are limited as the filters cannot be included in your regular recycling and recycling centers often cannot take them.
The materials inside a BRITA filter are not routinely recycled
BRITA filters aren’t straightforward to recycle because they don’t contain everyday materials. The filters are composed of several proprietary materials that are layered for efficient tap water filtration.
Here’s what’s inside your BRITA filter cartridge or disc:
1. Activated charcoal
Activated charcoal from coconut coir does the main filtration work. It is treated with an inhibitor to prevent microbial growth. The porous charcoal adsorbs contaminants as the tap water passes through it. The use of charcoal removes odors that taint the water and improves its taste.
2. An ion exchange resin
Ion exchange resin removes the calcium and magnum ions that make water hard. This is done by exchanging calcium and magnesium with sodium ions, softening the water. The filter expires when the ion exchange resin becomes saturated with calcium and magnesium.
3. A mesh filter
A fine plastic mesh filter at the top of the filter cartridge removes larger particulates. This prevents coarse material from entering and disrupting the filter.
4. BPA-free Plastic housing
A polypropylene (PP) plastic housing holds together and seals the entire filter. The plastic used is known as Type 5 plastic and is not always routinely recyclable by curbside collection.
In addition, the used filters contain contaminants that may affect the recycling process
Spent BRITA filters are also carrying all the contaminants that they have filtered. These unwanted substances are bound to the different filter layers. Processing waste filters may affect other materials that come into contact with these substances during the recycling process.
So, is it possible to recycle all BRITA filters?
So, how to recycle BRITA filters? Is it even possible?
Thankfully BRITA has recognized the waste that comes with disposable water filter cartridges and, since 1992, has taken decisive steps to ensure they save as many cartridges as possible from landfill.
BRITA was the first company in its sector to establish a centralized recycling program for spent cartridges. They have maintained this program for over two decades and ensure that used BRITA cartridges are either reused or recycled. BRITA has even developed its own regeneration system for renewing filter materials.
At the BRITA headquarters in Tanusstein, Germany a specialist facility that includes wastewater treatment recycles used filters of all types. No components are wasted, and they reuse everything. This short video summarizes the recycling process at BRITA:
What does the BRITA recycling process involve?
BRITA’s recycling process deals with each of the materials that make up its filters. The plastic housing of the filter cartridge is carefully cleaned and ground down into a granulate that can supply the plastics industry.
BRITA then removes and separates the used activated charcoal and ion exchange resin layers. BRITA can reactivate the charcoal layer using specialist techniques so that it can be used for wastewater treatment.
They completely recycled the ion exchange material using extensive chemical and thermal purification. The recycled resin must meet stringent hygiene and quality standards to be used as a fresh ion exchanger in new BRITA filter cartridges.
Is shipping used filters carbon neutral?
Shipping tonnes of used filters all the way to Germany sounds expensive and resource-intensive too. However, BRITA efficiently uses its logistics chain to both supply new stock and retrieve the spent cartridges. BRITA say that their process is so efficient that no additional fuel is required for retrieving spent cartridges.
The recycling process uses much less energy than would be needed to create new plastic and charcoal products.
How to recycle BRITA filters easily
BRITA has run a collection program for recycling used filters for almost 20 years. They have partnered with an expanding number of retailers to set up collection points where you can drop off used filter cartridges while shopping for some new ones. This is the easiest way to recycle your old BRITA filters. Here are the steps to follow:
1. Prepare your used BRITA filter for recycling
BRITA filter cartridges need to be properly prepared for recycling, just like your other household items. The main issue with BRITA filters is moisture which can breed mold. Ensure that your cartridges are superficially clean, thoroughly dried out, and bagged before recycling them.
2. Carry your used filters to your local BRITA retailer
BRITA has established relationships with major retailers like supermarkets, grocery stores, department stores, and hardware stores. Retailers may provide a dedicated BRITA box or a community recycling hub where you can recycle items like batteries, beverage pods, coffee capsules, and water filters from a range of brands.
3. Drop the spent BRITA cartridge in the collection box
Drop your old cartridges in the collection box and continue your day. The used filters are then collected by specialist recycling companies or forwarded to BRITA directly.
How to recycle BRITA filters using TerraCycle
BRITA continues to innovate its recycling program and processes. They have acquired the specialist recycling company TerraCycle as a sustainability partner and rolled out a BRITA products recycling program called the ‘BRITA brigade’ that spans the United States.
What is TerraCycle?
TerraCycle is a US-based recycling company that specializes in collecting and recycling products and materials that conventional recycling plants cannot process. They then use the recovered raw materials in a range of innovative manufacturing processes. Like BRITA, Terracycle can renew and reprocess every element of a BRITA filter cartridge for new purposes.
Use TerraCycle to recycle your BRITA filters
This BRITA filter recycling program may be even more convenient than visiting a store as all you need to do is post your used filters to TerraCycle and they will handle all the recycling in partnership with BRITA.
Here’s how to recycle your BRITA filters using TerraCycle:
Step 1: Set up a TerraCycle account
You will need to set up a TerraCycle account to use TerraCycle to recycle your BRITA filters. You can sign up for TerraCycle at their website. By registering with TerraCycle, you become eligible to earn reward points for your recycling that are turned into donations to schools and charities.
Step 2: Prepare your used filters for recycling
TerraCycle doesn’t require the filters to be clean, but they must be dry for postal services to accept them. Dry out your filters for at least three days to ensure that they will ship without dripping.
Also, TerraCycle advises you should ship at least nine filters or a kilo in weight at a time. If you ship less than this, you won’t earn reward points on your TerraCycle account.
Step 3: Log into your TerraCycle account to download a prepaid shipping label
Once you have enough used filters, simply box them up and send them to TerraCycle for free. To do this, you’ll need to print off a shipping label via the TerraCycle account. Attach the label to the parcel of used filters so they can be shipped to TerraCycle for processing.
Step 4: Ship your used filters for free
Drop the filters off at your nearest post depot for free shipping to TerraCycle. When your filters are received, you will earn reward points on your account.
TerraCycle doesn’t just recycle BRITA filters…
In the US, TerraCycle will recycle anything produced by BRITA. This means that you can use your TerraCycle account to recycle BRITA products that include:
- BRITA packaging
- BRITA bottles and caps
- BRITA flexible plastic pouches
- BRITA jugs and other containers
This particular recycling program is only for BRITA-branded products. Other water filters and products are not eligible as BRITA is sponsoring this program.
How to recycle BRITA filters in Europe and the UK
The TerraCycle program is unavailable in the UK, Ireland, or the EU. BRITA maintains its longstanding program of offering collection boxes for used filters in these regions instead. According to Robert Dyas, a retailer taking part in the collection program, over 3.2 million BRITA cartridges have been recycled in their stores in the last 10 years.
How to recycle BRITA filters in the UK
In the UK, simply drop off cleaned, dried, and bagged filters in the collection boxes at retailers that sell BRITA products, including Sainsbury’s, Tesco, and Robert Dyas.
How to recycle BRITA filters in Ireland
Again, just drop your used filters in the collection boxes of BRITA retailers, such as PowerCity and many independent retailers.
So, now you know how to recycle BRITA filters easily and safely – it makes using BRITA products for tap water filtration (rather than buying bottled water) an even more environmentally friendly way to keep plastic out of landfills. Being able to fully recycle the filters makes BRITA products a more environmentally friendly choice.
BRITA has worked hard to find new ways to keep as many filters as possible out of the landfill and their partnership with TerraCycle makes this specialist recycling ultra-convenient.