How to Dispose of Water Filter Media and Cartridges (2024)

Reviewed by: James Layton
Updated on:
March 7, 2024

Key Takeaways

Disposing of Water Filters Responsibly

Look, I’m not going to lie to you. Unfortunately, the most responsible way to dispose of a water filter means it goes to a landfill. At the very least, water filters make less waste than single-use water bottles.

But if you want to do better than that, find a filter that lasts a long time.

Reverse osmosis filters can last up to two years, though they sometimes have other elements, such as activated carbon, that need to be changed out more frequently. We’ve reviewed the best tankless reverse osmosis systems.

Another water treatment method that doesn’t use replaceable filters is ultra-violet purification. This treatment, which kills bacteria, viruses, and parasites, uses UV light to purify water. You do have to replace the lightbulb, but I don’t think it’s more often than a year, maybe even longer. Here are the best UV purifiers.

Let’s look at some of the reported options and I’ll explain why most are not very good options — or options at all.

Municipal Waste Management

It’s extremely unlikely that your local waste management company can help you recycle your water filter.

First of all, there are too many types of filters. Hundreds. And they’re all made of different kinds of plastic, some that are recyclable, some that aren’t. How will the folks at the dump know? They don’t have fancy glasses that tell them what it is. They aren’t jewelers.

Even if they could recycle the plastic, these organizations simply don’t have the resources to dismantle the filters and ready them for processing. Neither the waste management companies, nor the government, nor the water filter manufacturers want to foot the bill for this level of commitment.

Well, except a few manufacturers.

Manufacturer programs

It’s not all bad news. A few corporations have tried to implement recycling programs for water filters, but the costs are prohibitive, so many have closed. A few optimistic entities are holding on though.

For example, TerraCycle has a free recycling program for Brita and Hydros water filters, but there is a waitlist. And it only applies to certain filters.

If you buy ZeroWater filters, you can sign up for its recycling program. You have to pay the shipping, but you do get a coupon in return.

Independent recycling programs

If you’re willing to pay a fee, the fine folks at will recycle virtually any water filter, even refrigerator, reverse osmosis, and carbon filters. The list of brands they accept is extensive, so check them out.

How NOT to Dispose of Old Filter Media

It’s essential that you dispose of water filters properly. Failing to do so can disrupt the efficient functioning of your local waste management.

Do not toss it in with your recycling.

While it might be tempting to toss nonrecyclable filter cartridge shells into the recycling bin in the hopes that they can be recycled, this can actually do more harm than good.

Such “wish cycling” is a well-intentioned but misguided practice. It stems from the desire to recycle as much as possible but without the necessary understanding of what can and cannot be recycled.

Wish cycling actually leads to more landfill waste. When a contaminated batch of recyclables is deemed too costly or difficult to sort, the entire batch may be discarded. This means that even the items that could have been recycled end up in a landfill.

Do not put it in your compost bin.

Some water filter companies have introduced compostable filters, where the filter media disengages from a reusable cartridge. The removed filter media, full of all the contaminants you didn’t want to drink, is supposedly compostable.

But putting a used water filter in your compost bin contaminates your valuable compost with the impurities you filtered out of your water, many of which will harm whatever you apply the compost to. Sure, it won’t hurt you, but it could damage your plants considerably.

If your water filter claims to be compostable, check with your local authorities to see if there is an industrial composting facility nearby and if they take water filters. Industrial composting uses much higher temperatures and might be able to handle water filter contaminants better than home composting could.

The Difference Between Water Filter Media and Cartridges

Water filter cartridges and filter media are terms that are sometimes used interchangeably, but they refer to different parts of a water filtration system. To make matters clear for someone unfamiliar, here’s what each is:

Water filter cartridges

A water filter cartridge is the entire unit or casing that you insert into your filtration device, whether it’s a pitcher, under-sink system, faucet attachment, or any other type. 

The cartridge contains the filter media, the component that actively filters out contaminants from the water. It also includes the outer casing, seals, and other elements that hold the filter media in place.

Many filter cartridges are interchangeable among brands. See our list of the best whole-house filter cartridges for more information.

Filter media

The filter media is the substance or material inside the cartridge that filters or purifies the water. Different types of filter media are designed to remove different contaminants. Common filter media include activated carbon, ceramic, ion-exchange resins, and various specialized resins designed to remove specific contaminants.


The easiest and pretty much the only way to dispose of water filters is to throw them in the trash, unless you buy a very specific brand or are willing to pay for them to be recycled. Maybe you are. If so, that’s awesome!

Beware of common mistakes when disposing of an old water filter, such as throwing it in the recycling bin and hoping for the best.

Got questions or comments about water filters? Leave us a comment below! We’ll get back to you.

In the meantime, learn more about water treatment with these links:

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