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

Updated on:
January 6, 2024

Just like any other appliance, water filters have a lifespan. Over time, the filter media becomes saturated with all the contaminants it has removed from your water. When this happens, it’s time for a replacement to ensure you continue to enjoy clean, safe water.

But discarding the old ones is not as simple as tossing them in the trash, and doing so can actually harm the environment. In this guide, we’ll explore how to dispose of them responsibly. 

So, if you’re ready to learn how to give your old water filters a proper send-off, let’s get started!

Difference Between Disposing of Water Filter Media and Cartridges

Water filter cartridges and filter media are terms that are sometimes used interchangeably, but they can 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 often 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.

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.

Why dispose of them separately?

Different material

Cartridges are often made from plastic or metal, while filter media can be made from various materials, as mentioned above. Different materials require different disposal or recycling processes.

Environmental impact

While some filter media like activated carbon can be disposed of safely in regular trash (in many areas), plastic cartridges, if not recycled correctly, can contribute to environmental pollution. Some filter media might also contain trapped contaminants which are not suitable for general waste disposal.

Recycling requirements

Check your locality’s specific recycling program to find out if it will accept water filters. Many municipalities or manufacturers have specific recycling programs for cartridges. Filter media, depending on what it’s made of, might have separate recycling or disposal guidelines.

How to Remove Water Filters

First, consult the manual. Many water filters come with user manuals that provide guidance on how to remove, replace, and dispose of cartridges and filter media. It may also have instructions on how to take the cartridge apart if necessary.

Twist and open

Most cartridges are designed to be user-friendly. Typically, you can twist the top or bottom of the cartridge to open it. This can give you access to the filter media inside.

Use tools

For some cartridges, you might need basic tools like a screwdriver to open them. Always do this with caution, and if it seems too complicated, it might be best to dispose of the entire cartridge without separating it.

Wear gloves

It’s a good practice to wear gloves when handling used filter media, especially if you’re not sure what contaminants the media might have trapped.

Check with the manufacturer

If in doubt, many manufacturers have customer service lines or websites with detailed information on how to handle their products for disposal or how to go about recycling water filters.

Remember, it’s essential to dispose of or recycle filter cartridges and media responsibly, not just for environmental reasons but to ensure the safety and health of communities. Always consult local guidelines or manufacturer instructions to make the best decision.

Disposing of Water Filter Media Responsibly

Disposing of old, used filter media is a task that requires careful consideration. It’s not just about getting rid of something you no longer need. It’s about doing so in a way that minimizes environmental impact. 

This applies to all the leading types of household water filters:

  • Activated carbon filters
  • Reverse osmosis filters
  • UV sterilization filters
  • Absolute 1-micron filters

The best way to dispose of used filter media is to take it to a municipal solid waste facility or a recycling company. 

Municipal Solid Waste and Recycling Facilities

Municipal solid waste facilities and recycling companies are equipped to handle a variety of waste materials, including used filter media. They have the necessary equipment and processes in place to ensure that waste is disposed of in the most environmentally friendly way possible.

For instance, some components of the filter media may be recyclable. A recycling company has the means to separate these components and process them accordingly. On the other hand, nonrecyclable components can be handled appropriately by a municipal solid waste facility.

Before you take your used filter media to a waste facility or local recycling center, there are a few steps you should follow:

  1. Check with the facility: Not all facilities accept all types of waste. Before you load up your car with used filter media, call ahead or check the facility’s website to make sure they accept it.
  2. Prepare the filter media: Depending on the type of filter and the facility’s requirements, you may need to prepare the filter media for disposal. This could involve drying it out, placing it in a specific type of bag, or other steps. Again, check with the facility to find out what you need to do.
  3. Drop off the filter media: Once you’ve confirmed that the facility accepts your filter media and you’ve prepared it according to their instructions, you can drop it off. Some facilities may have specific drop-off times or procedures, so be sure to find out what these are.

By taking the time to dispose of your used filter media properly, you’re not just getting rid of something you no longer need, you’re also doing your part to protect the environment. It’s a small step, but every little bit helps.

How NOT to Dispose of Old Filter Media

It’s essential that you dispose of water filters properly. The environmental impact of improper disposal of filter media can be significant. Water and soil pollution can harm ecosystems, affecting plant and animal life. For humans, this pollution can lead to a lower quality of water and potential health risks.

Moreover, the costs associated with addressing these issues can be substantial. Cleaning up polluted water sources, repairing damaged ecosystems, and fixing plumbing issues caused by improperly disposed filter media can all add up.

Do not put it in the sink or the toilet

Disposing of used filter media in the sink or toilet might seem like a quick and easy solution, but it can lead to serious problems. 

The filter media is designed to trap and hold contaminants, and when it’s flushed down the drain, those contaminants can end up in the water supply. This can lead to water pollution, harming aquatic life and potentially affecting the quality of the water we use daily.

Moreover, the physical properties of the filter media can also cause issues. Depending on the type of filter media, it could potentially clog pipes, leading to costly plumbing issues.

Do not leave it in the yard

At first glance, the yard might seem like a natural place to dispose of used filter media. However, this method of disposal can also lead to environmental contamination. 

The contaminants trapped in the filter media can leach into the soil, potentially harming plants and wildlife. Over time, these contaminants can also make their way into groundwater, contributing to water pollution.

How to Discard Nonrecyclable Filter Cartridge Shells

When it comes to the disposal of nonrecyclable filter cartridge shells — the bit that holds the filter media — it’s also important to understand the correct methods to avoid causing harm to the environment and recycling systems. 

It’s actually recommended that you throw these into the trash, and not bring them to a recycling facility.

The plastic shells of filter cartridges are often made from types of plastic that are not widely recyclable. When a material is not recyclable, the most appropriate place for it is usually the trash. This is because municipal waste facilities are equipped to handle nonrecyclable waste and dispose of it in a way that minimizes environmental impact.

The impact of “wish cycling”

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. This practice, known as “wish cycling,” can contaminate recycling streams, making the recycling process more difficult and less efficient.

“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. The result is a contamination of the recycling stream, which can lead to increased cost, decreased efficiency, and even the potential closure of facilities.

In addition, “wish cycling” can lead to more waste ending up in landfills. 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 contributing to landfill waste.

Other Water Filter Disposal Options

There are several options for disposing of old filters and cartridges:

  • Compostable water filters: Some water filters are compostable. If you have one of these, you can add it to your compost pile.
  • Pay-to-recycle options: Some companies offer pay-to-recycle programs for water filters. 
  • Check local options: Your local waste management facility or municipality may have water filter recycling programs.
  • Contact the manufacturer: If you’re not sure how to dispose of your water filter, contact the manufacturer. They may have a take-back program or can provide disposal instructions.

But be aware, recycling certain types of filters, like refrigerator filters, can be difficult. And watch out for scam websites that claim to recycle water filters for a fee. 


Beware of common mistakes when disposing of an old water filter, such as throwing it in the trash or recycling bin without checking if it’s recyclable. When buying a new water filter, consider choosing a recyclable one.

Recycling a filter can have many benefits, including reducing waste and conserving resources. But remember, the bacteria absorbed by the filters is considered biohazardous waste, so it’s important to handle used filters carefully. 

If you’re unsure about the best filter for your needs, consult with a healthcare professional.

Got questions about water filters? Dive into understanding their role in ensuring a reliable water supply, accompanied by these additional insights:

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