What do I do with old water filters? You fill up a glass of cold water for yourself on a hot day. With a newly installed water filter, your water has never tasted better. You’re on your way to throwing out your old water filter when you wonder; what’s going to happen to it?
You look at your old filter and see small rocks stuck in a metallic net. There’s weird-smelling gunk on the carbon block, and the plastic housing is stained. Would it be safe to use this again?
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What Makes Up a Water Filter?
Water filters come in different types and are tailored for various forms of convenience. The housing and packaging may vary, but domestic water filters all come with a mechanical and an adsorptive layer.
The mechanical layer is made up of a sedimentary filter. Its purpose is to remove sediments such as small rocks, bits of plastic, and dirt. It’s usually made of metal or ceramic. A sedimentary filter comes in different configurations named according to how they are built.
Its capacity to remove waste is rated in microns, short for micrometer, one-millionth of a meter in size. The micron rating specifies what size of debris the filter can separate from the water.
For example, a 5-micron filter will remove everything that’s 5 microns and bigger.
For reference, a human hair is about 80 microns: the smaller the micron rating is, the more effectively the filter works.
The water filter’s adsorptive layer consists of activated carbon granules, a solid carbon block, or both. Activated carbon granules are larger and more spread out, while a carbon block is denser in structure.
The activated carbon works by reacting with the water’s organic compounds, causing them to stick to the filter. The more porous the activated carbon, the more effective it is in taking out these contaminants. If the pores become full of gunk, the particles will begin to break away and flow into your water supply.
Once the water goes through the mechanical layer and the dirt has been taken out, it’s the adsorptive layer’s job to remove the chemicals that are still in the water. Chlorine used to treat the water leaves an unpleasant smell and taste that can only be removed after going through the activated carbon. Other contaminants, such as lead and mercury, are also eliminated by the activated carbon.
All these layers work together to create a functioning water filter that’s made simple enough to be installed by you at home. To do this, manufacturers utilize plastic to build housing for these filters. Parts are designed so you can easily attach or remove the filter onto the water systems in your home.
The plastic housing can be cleaned and reused in some filters, particularly pitcher filters and countertop filters. You usually end up replacing the cartridges with the sedimentary filter and activated carbon sold separately or as a set.
Where Do All the Used Water Filters Go?
Like most of the things you toss in a trash bin, used water filters end up in landfills where they will likely stay untouched for fifty years or more. Compared to other household waste, the number of water filters a typical home disposes of is not staggeringly high in a year. However, it’s enough to make anyone consider reusing or recycling them.
Let’s assume you change water filters twice a year. Your household, therefore, goes through ten water filters in five years. Multiply that to the number of water filter systems in your home. Then, multiply that by the number of houses in your neighborhood.
Once you do the math, you’ll realize that many water filters are being thrown out within just five years in one neighborhood, contributing more to local landfills.
What Are the Effects of Disposed Water Filters On the Environment?
The activated carbon granules in water filters do not harm the environment. They can protect the soil from the harmful chemicals that seep out from the waste in landfills.
However, there would have to be tons of activated carbon granules spread across a landfill for this to work. It would be impossible for a few old water filters to take up that much land area to make a difference.
While some parts of a water filter are harmless and eventually disintegrate, the pollutants it collects over time may pose a health hazard. Not to mention, the plastic that’s holding it together will add to the ongoing plastic problem.
For decades, plastic has been the main contributor to the world’s waste problem. They take too long to decompose and have been the cause of a decline in ocean life.
Currently, there are tons of micro-plastics in the ocean that are seeping back up into our water systems. This will include the plastic housing that comes from the water filters that have been thrown out after use.
Can I Clean And Reuse an Old Water Filter?
One article suggests that regularly cleaning your water filter will help extend its lifespan. If you have a questionable water source, your water filter may need extra help in filtering out the stuff you don’t want to consume. A monthly clean-up may be necessary to function correctly for the rest of the six months until it gets replaced.
Cleaning a water filter is no walk in the park, however. It may take you up to five days and require various acids to remove most contaminants. If not doing it correctly, you could end up doing more harm than good.
This site provides a step-by-step guide to cleaning different kinds of filters, as well as how to refill your activated carbon.
If you’re willing to put in the extra effort, cleaning your filter will have you keeping your filter’s effectiveness for longer. You will eventually need to replace it after six months. Still, this additional maintenance will ensure that it functions well and won’t break within its lifespan.
Can I Reuse Water Filters that Are Past Their Six-month Lifespan?
Reusing filters past their due date may not be a good idea, especially if used for drinking water. Most filters have paper-based fibers that won’t do so well if cleaned like synthetic fibers. Also, it’s advised never to use carbon filters for more than a year.
Even if you manage to remove most of the sediments, there’s no guarantee that you’ll completely remove the contaminants. There are microorganisms that you can’t spot with the naked eye, so it’ll be difficult to gauge how clean you made it.
In the end, spare yourself the guesswork. It’s still more reasonable to replace the water filter entirely after the six months it’s supposed to last.
What Happens If I Don’t Clean or Replace My Water Filters?
Unfiltered and contaminated water is a breeding ground for bacteria and parasites. Drinking just a small amount is sure to reward your carelessness with a bad case of diarrhea.
It introduces you to more severe health risks – from kidney problems to high blood pressure to a fatal gastrointestinal disease.
How Can I Recycle My Old Water Filter?
Unfortunately, there is no safe do-it-yourself solution to recycling your old water filters. It would be best if you did not cut it open to see what’s inside. Remember, this is a device that has been keeping your water safe by trapping contaminants and chemicals – it’s going to be chock full of harmful pollutants that you could expose to yourself and your family.
Instead, it’s recommended that you contact your water filter manufacturer and inquire if they have a recycling program. Brands such as Brita, Pur, and ZeroWater currently have recycling programs set in place for their customers.
Additionally, TerraCycle has teamed up with brands such as Brita and Pur for the repurposing of their products. TerraCycle is an upcycling company committed to recycling waste that has been considered non-recyclable.
You can also opt to ask around your local stores if they have recycling facilities for water filters. As for third-party recycling programs, be sure to steer clear of possible scammers who might charge you for a recycling job that will never happen.
Is There a Proper Way to Dispose Of My Old Water Filter?
Most manufacturers would tell you to toss your old water filter out with the rest of the trash. As long as you keep everything intact, it won’t be hazardous to anyone.
In the unfortunate event that your water filter was damaged, you may have to wrap it in a bag before throwing it out. Doing this will make sure the contaminants don’t seep out onto the rest of the garbage.
Filter For Your Life
Where there is water, there is life. For as long as you and your family are alive, you will all continue consuming water. Filtering water is a much more cost-effective and environmentally friendly option as compared to relying on bottled water. While it doesn’t necessarily eradicate plastic waste, it reduces it significantly.
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