Are Home Water Filters Considered Hazardous Waste?

Clover Dane


Water filters have become a popular choice for many households, providing clean and purified water for drinking and everyday use. However, when it comes to disposing of used water filters, there is often confusion about whether they are considered hazardous waste. In this article, we will delve into the topic and provide a comprehensive guide on the proper disposal of home water filters.

The Importance of Proper Disposal

Before we delve into the details of disposing of home water filters, it is essential to understand why proper disposal is crucial. Water filters are designed to remove impurities and contaminants from our water supply, ensuring that we have access to clean and safe drinking water. However, these filters also accumulate the contaminants they remove, making them potentially harmful if not disposed of correctly.

Improper disposal of water filters can lead to environmental pollution, as the accumulated contaminants can seep into the soil and water sources. Additionally, some water filters contain materials that may be harmful to the environment, further emphasizing the need for proper disposal methods.

Different Types of Water Filters

To understand the best disposal methods, it is essential to familiarize ourselves with the different types of water filters available in the market. Here are the most common types:

1. Mechanical Filters

Mechanical filters work by trapping particles as water passes through a filter, usually made of wire mesh or a cartridge. These filters are effective in removing sand, silt, clay, and other larger particles.

2. Absorption Filters

Absorption filters utilize specially-treated carbon to create a rough surface that traps particles. The carbon, often derived from organic matter like coconut shells or coal, contains cracks and crags that effectively capture contaminants. Over time, the carbon block or matrix becomes clogged and requires replacement.

3. Sequestration Filters

Sequestration filters target minerals that cause limescale and corrosion, using a chemical reaction to bind calcium and magnesium in a solution. Food-grade polyphosphate is commonly used to attract harmful minerals and keep them contained. However, boiling the filtered water may release the minerals from their bond, making sequestration filters unsuitable for all uses.

4. Ion Exchange Filters

Ion exchange filters are designed to treat hard water by exchanging ions. Minerals like calcium and magnesium swap with sodium or hydrogen ions, effectively softening the water. These filters often use small beads containing exchangeable ions and can be recharged by the manufacturer when they stop working, eliminating the need for disposal or recycling.

5. Reverse Osmosis Filters

Reverse osmosis filters utilize a thin membrane to block fine particles, forcing water through tiny pores under pressure. Contaminants larger than the pores are left behind as waste, known as brine.

Understanding Recycling Options

Now that we have a basic understanding of the different types of water filters, it is time to explore recycling options for each type. Recycling water filters can be an environmentally conscious choice, reducing the amount of waste sent to landfills. However, not all water filters are easily recyclable, and the recycling process may vary depending on the manufacturer and filter type.

1. Mechanical Filters

Mechanical filters, such as those made of wire mesh or cartridges, are often not recyclable due to their complex design. These filters should be disposed of in the regular trash. However, it is important to check with local recycling facilities if they have specific guidelines for mechanical filters.

2. Absorption Filters

Absorption filters, particularly those using activated carbon, have the potential to be recycled and reactivated. The process involves removing the waste products that have been absorbed by the carbon, allowing it to be reused. Local recycling companies may accept activated carbon filters for recycling, but it is essential to ensure that both the filter media and the outer shell are recycled properly.

3. Sequestration Filters

Sequestration filters, which primarily target harmful minerals, are not typically recyclable. These filters should be disposed of in the regular trash. However, it is important to remove the filter media from the outer shell before disposal.

4. Ion Exchange Filters

Ion exchange filters, known for their ability to soften hard water, do not require disposal or recycling. These filters can be recharged by the manufacturer, eliminating the need for recycling or disposal.

5. Reverse Osmosis Filters

Reverse osmosis filters produce waste in the form of brine. While the filter itself may not be recyclable, there are alternative uses for the brine waste. It can be repurposed for irrigation purposes or treated at wastewater treatment plants. Contact local recycling facilities or wastewater treatment plants to inquire about proper disposal methods for reverse osmosis filter waste.

Manufacturer Recycling Programs

In addition to general recycling options, many water filter manufacturers offer specific recycling programs for their products. These programs allow customers to return used filters for proper recycling or disposal. Here are some examples of manufacturer recycling programs:

1. Brita

Brita offers a recycling program called “Gimme 5,” allowing customers to recycle their filters. The recycled filters are transformed into various products, including plates, toothbrushes, cutlery, and food storage containers. Filters can be returned to Preserve by mail or dropped off at participating locations, such as Whole Foods.

2. Terracycle

Terracycle recycles filters from brands like Brita, PUR, and Everpure. Customers can sign up for the program and receive a shipping label to return the filters free of charge. The returned filters earn points that can be redeemed for charitable donations or products. Terracycle also accepts packaging, reusable water bottles, and water pitchers for recycling.

3. Everpure

Everpure filters are 100% recyclable, and the company provides a list of drop-off locations or the option to mail them in for recycling.

4. Filtrete

Filtrete Water Station filters are 100% recyclable as they use #2 plastic, similar to milk jugs. The filtering material should be removed and discarded, while the plastic casing can be recycled in regular recycling bins.

5. Zero Water

Zero Water offers a recycling program that incentivizes customers to return used filters. By sending back two full-sized filters, customers receive a coupon for $20 off the purchase of a four-pack of new filters. This program helps offset the cost of filtration and shipping fees.

6. Mavea

Mavea allows customers to recycle their water filters by returning them to the company or depositing them in plastic recycling bins. The filters contain recyclable silver, which can be used in various new products.

7. GE

GE recycles all refrigerator water filters at no cost to the customers. When replacing an old filter, the new one comes with a postage-paid envelope to return the old filter to GE.

Proper Disposal Methods

In cases where recycling options are not available or feasible, it is important to know how to dispose of water filters properly. Here are some general guidelines:

1. Remove Filter Media

If the filter media can be separated from the outer shell, it is recommended to do so before disposal. This ensures proper recycling or disposal of each component.

2. Municipal Solid Waste

When recycling options are not available, the filter media should be disposed of in the regular trash with other municipal solid waste. However, it is important to follow local guidelines and regulations regarding disposal.

3. Hazardous Waste Center

If there are concerns about the filter media containing hazardous materials or if there are specific disposal regulations in your area, consider taking the used filter to an EPA-certified hazardous waste collection center. These centers have the necessary tools and knowledge to handle potentially hazardous waste safely.

Common Mistakes to Avoid

When disposing of old water filters, it is important to avoid common mistakes that can harm the environment or compromise the effectiveness of the filters. Here are two common mistakes to avoid:

1. Flushing Filters Down the Toilet

Flushing water filters down the toilet or disposing of them in the sink is not recommended. Plumbing systems may not be designed to handle the chemicals present in water filter media, potentially causing plumbing issues and contaminating the water supply.

2. Disposing of Filters in the Yard

Scattering activated charcoal filter media in the yard is not a suitable disposal method. This can lead to contamination of the soil and nearby water sources. It is best to follow proper disposal methods as discussed earlier.

Consider Alternatives

To reduce the environmental impact of disposable water filters, consider investing in a recyclable filter or a whole house water filter system. Recyclable filters are designed to be reused and can significantly reduce waste. Whole house water filters provide clean and filtered water for the entire household, minimizing the need for frequent filter replacements.


Proper disposal of home water filters is essential to protect the environment and ensure the safe handling of potential contaminants. While recycling options vary depending on the type of filter and manufacturer, it is important to explore available programs and follow local guidelines for disposal. By choosing eco-friendly disposal methods and considering alternatives like recyclable filters and whole house water filtration systems, we can contribute to a cleaner and healthier environment for future generations.