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Recycling Tap Water Filters

Recycling Plastic Bottle

We have all seen the commercials, read the packages and are familiar with the "Reduce-Reuse-Recycle" slogan. But, have you ever considered recycling your tap water filters? We've got some information about the recycling process and some resources that you can use for recycling.

Recycling Difficulty

For our purposes here, we will give credit to all of the Public Service Announcements regarding plastic. Readers are familiar with how plastic can be recycled multiple times over, using fewer resources and producing less pollution each time. Instead of talking about what recycling is, let us talk about what plastic is.

In short, most plastics are derived from petrochemicals and are comprised of polymers, or long and repeating chemical molecules. Coming from the Greek word plastickos which means that which is capable of being shaped or molded, plastic lives up to that legacy. Many, many chemicals and techniques can be used to create plastic in all of its many shapes, colors, strengths and consistencies.

Numbered Plastics

That leads us to one of the most confusing and troubling aspects of plastic recycling. What do all of the numbers mean? Plastic products are labeled with a number from 1 to 7 to signify what category of resin it falls under. In short, each number corresponds to two things. First is the kind of plastic from which it is made. The chemical compositions and kinds of polymers used dictate the end use. Secondly it helps the recycling effort by categorizing what plastic it is at a glance, reducing time and effort taken.

    Recycling Plastic Bottle Mountain
  1. Polyethylene terephthalate: Aka PETE or PET, this is probably the most common as it is used as soda and water bottles. It's also used as polyester fibers
  2. High-density polyethylene: Aka HDPE this is most commonly used in playground equipment, milk jugs and grocery bags.
  3. Polyvinyl chrloride: Aka PVC, it is largely used in piping, food wrap and children's toys. It contains phtalates which are used to soften plastic that are known to interfere with hormonal development.
  4. Low-density polyethylene: Aka LDPE, common uses include grocery bags, 6-pack rings and squeeze bottles.
  5. Polypropylene: Used in cookware, auto parts and straws
  6. Polystyrene: Used in the brand Styrofoam it is commonly found in packing peanuts, toys, disposable plates and cups. It has the potential to leach toxic chemicals when heated.
  7. Other: Used as a catch-all code, containing all other resins that do not fall under the previous categories. Most plastics developed after the late 1980's receive this classification. They can be made of bioplastics, polycarbonate, nylon and other materials.

Regarding safety, #2, #4 and #5 are largely considered safe to use as they carry little risk of leaching into food or drink. #1 is also safe but when reused carries the risk of bacterial growth. All others should be avoided for use with food when possible. Moreover, even plastics labeled "Microwave Safe" are not necessarily safer when it comes to leaching chemicals into food, they are simply protected against melting.

To some extent, most plastics are recyclable. However, not all plastics are recycled because it is not cost effective to do so. One of the biggest costs for recycling comes is the sifting and sorting process. Almost exclusively a task performed by hand, it is labor intensive and is difficult to automate.

What does this have to do with drinking water? The bottled water industry makes billions of dollars a year and contributes some of the most waste in discarded containers. The process of bottling and distributing that water costs many orders of magnitude more than tap water and uses millions of gallons of oil in the process. When compared to tap water, the quality is comparable or better, it is always available and most remaining concerns about taste and quality can be answered with tap water filters.

Bottled Water and Recycling Statistics

    Recycling Plastic Bottle Seagulls
  • In 2010, 50% of all bottled water came from municipal sources, effectively making half of all bottled water equivalent to tap water.
  • Bottled water is intermittently checked for safety. After filtration, bacteria checks are only once a week. Every three months, only four empty bottles are checked for quality and sterility. Unfiltered water needs to be checked once a year when contacted with chemical, physical and radiological contaminants.
  • Municipal water sources are checked much more frequently and have to meet high federally regulated standards.
  • Bottled water is often stored in "relatively warm (room) temperatures for extended periods of time" and any bacteria populations present in the water can grow up to 1,000-fold after a week in bottled mineral water.

Recycling Programs

Recycling programs do exist but vary widely in what plastics are accepted and what level you are required to participate. One of the biggest challenges for most consumers is the sorting process. Most consumers are able to co-mingle, or mix, their glass, paper, aluminum and plastic products. However, some services still require customers to sort each category into its own bin and most are less willing to take the time to do so. Usually, most municipal waste management services sell the collected recyclables to third parties who then go on to sort and manage all subsequent recycling processes.

It's important to check your city to see what they offer. Most states and cities will have regular recycling locations where you can take your products and earn (a small) amount of money back.

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