Recycling refrigerator water filters: worth it?
October 21, 2021 10:51 AM   Subscribe

We use the water filter that you screw into your fridge. We go through one per year. I have been saving them to mail to this company for recyling, as they are big chunks of plastic that I would prefer to not throw away. Do you think this company is legit? If yes, do you think it is worth the carbon of shipping them a heavy box of filters?

I have tried to research the company and all I can find is "they charge you! They sign you up for direct marketing!", both of which are not deal breakers for me. They don't have a phone number, though. If they were a scam, and pocketing the fee while dumping the filters in the trash, I would think they would ask for more.
posted by cgs to Home & Garden (6 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
It depends on why you are doing this but if it's about reducing lifecycle carbon emissions, you probably should just throw the filter in a landfill.

First off, it's entirely possible that the energy costs in transporting and recycling the spent filters will outweigh the carbon savings from recycling the plastic. I would love to dig up a lifecycle analysis for this but it will be very sensitive to the distance that the plastic travels to the recycling center, which will be orders of magnitude higher for this company than for municipal recycling, and of course shipping a box in the mail will be less energy-efficient than hauling a load of recyclables in a garbage truck.

But what I can say for sure is that if you are spending $100 on this, you can instead give it to Climeworks and have them directly capture and store 100kg of CO2 which will unquestionably fight global warming more than would spending it on recycling water filters.

(If your filters have a substantial amount of aluminum, the math may be different!)
posted by goingonit at 11:37 AM on October 21, 2021 [3 favorites]

Best answer: That website is not giving me particularly "this is legit" vibes. Moreover, plastic recycling is pretty notoriously limited, and if they're not saying, "The plastic from your old filter is used to manufacture new filters/XYZ item," or "The plastic from your water filter is especially valuable and easy to reprocess," (and they're not) I'd assume they're not doing anything so good for the planet it's worth your stress, money, and the carbon output of shipping. This is a small plastic item you use for a year at a time. I'd toss it in the trash without guilt. If it eases your conscience, give the money you would have spent on shipping and recycling it to a worthy cause.
posted by theotherdurassister at 11:46 AM on October 21, 2021 [4 favorites]

Best answer: I just looked at the filter in my fridge, which is made out of polypropylene and weighs 150g. If we assume the plastic weight is 50% of the total filter weight, and that you can ship them ten filters for $20 ($15 + actual shipping cost), then you're recycling 750g of plastic for $20. This lifecycle analysis suggests that recycling polypropylene can save ~16MJ of energy per kg recycled (I think excluding the feedstock energy here is the right call, since that embodied energy doesn't end up getting sent into the atmosphere in either case). Given current US electric grid makeup, this corresponds to a savings of 1.4kg of CO2 emitted for these ten filters, not counting CO2 emissions from shipping -- but again, if you gave the $20 to Climeworks, they could capture and store ~20kg of CO2, more than 10x as much (and less-direct offsetting techniques like tree planting could perform even better, if you believe their claims).
posted by goingonit at 12:11 PM on October 21, 2021 [4 favorites]

Best answer: Tremendous amounts of plastic sent to local recycling centers in an efficient way still ends up getting trashed because there's just not great ways to recycle most of it and limited demand for the recycled output. I can't see any reason why mailing a specific style of plastic product to a specialized center would be a net positive.
posted by Candleman at 12:25 PM on October 21, 2021 [1 favorite]

I would be surprised if it's worth it, though I don't know of a site that will give you a concrete comparison. I think about how the filters probably arrived on a pallet at the store (or local Amazon warehouse) and are coming back one by one, in individual packaging, via the mail. While the production of raw plastic is moderately carbon-intensive, transportation is more so. With toner cartridges, they get refurbished and reused. Or batteries are, at minimum, prevented from leaking heavy metals into the water table. But a plastic water filter? Our garbage company is pretty ecologically friendly (we have compost, battery and motor oil recycling, etc.), but even they are taking almost no plastic recycling these days. Bottles, jars, and tubs are about it. Even #1 PETE, which was supposedly very recyclable, is a no-go if it's a lid or clamshell container.
posted by wnissen at 2:20 PM on October 21, 2021 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: wnissen - your recycling company sounds amazing! I wish we had that sort of direct communication. Accepting batteries is pretty great too.
posted by cgs at 7:07 PM on October 21, 2021

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