Perhaps in some parts of the world companies such as Brita and Pur will take back used water filter cartridges, but I don't know where to do that in LA, and even if they do, why waste money, gas or packaging to get it back in their hands when you can just refill the purifying agent inside? Especially when those cartridges are most likely not being reused you will continue to buy expensive filters made of virgin plastic. **If you are not hip to the myths of recycling, see my handy link "Recycling: The Problem of Chasing Arrows" under the list on the right-hand bar. After reading, if you click here, it will take to you to a misinformed blog post where I found the photo below. LA residents comment below about why the post is misinformed and win my first GIVEAWAY: 2 cups of activated charcoal in your own container, Enough for 4 filter cartidges, up to $18 value!!
"NOT I," SAID THE ECO-CAT!
I ordered a few pounds of activated charcoal and followed these instructions to refill some of mine that I had cleaned out. If you live in the LA area, I can sell you 1 cup for $1 and you can try it out. Or you can order your own but be careful to order the right grain size or your water will be murky. The smallest amount sold is 1 gallon, and it comes in a (o.O) plastic jug. Well, I plan to reuse the bejeezus out of that jug if I ever get to the bottom of it. I hope the amount of plastic I can save from going to the landfill by refilling the water cartridges outweighs the jug.
A few additional notes if you want to try this:
1. I had trouble finding the poly plug they recommend, so I ended up using earplugs since that's what I had around. Not sure about the possible plastic residues that may result as water washes down over it and into the charcoal, but as long as I'm still filtering water in a plastic container, I figure it can't be much worse than a harder plastic plug. Maybe one day I'll find a really tiny cork.
2. Half a cup of activated charcoal per filter lasts a bit longer than the store-bought filters we used before. I've been very unscientific about it, just swapping the old out for another filter when it starts to taste less fresh. Just let the charcoal dry for a day or so, and then you can shake it out into the trash, or into your garden/compost. It's organic! And cheap and lasts at least a month for me.
3. I experimented with "reactivating" the Brita charcoal in the oven, and once in the microwave - BIG MISTAKE - I don't recommend either. I didn't try to filter more water with it, but re/activated charcoal works great as a deodorizer in a sachet. I successfully deodorized some stinky mens sneakers with it and another batch of charcoal (see#4), but the Brita stuff has some plastic beads mixed into it so heating it up seems to be a bad idea. I don't know what those are exactly, but they get greenish (with algae?), whereas with the plain charcoal I'm using, if it sits neglected for a few weeks (vacation) you will get green algae on the bottom of the water pitcher. I just washed it out and started over. I have been using these refilled cartridges for about 6 months now with no adverse affects.
4. Some sites said you can just get activated charcoal in the aquatic supplies at a pet store, so I tried it. I still have half a box of it if anyone in the area wants it for their fish tank. No bueno. Not for drinking water. It's also more expensive for the amount you get, and it's a mess! The water came out black no matter how much I rinsed. You need the medical grade. Which brings us to:
5. The medical grade does need to be rinsed/soaked once you get it into the cartridge, but don't keep running water through and freaking out that it's not coming out clear. Just rinse it for 2 or 3 minutes and let it sit in a glass of water, repeat if necessary, and then set it into its nesting place in the pitcher and fill up the reservoir. You'll see that the grain is small enough that some always escape into the upper chamber, but very few if any go through screen at the bottom of the cartridge where the filtered water comes out. Also, a tiny speck of charcoal or two is not going to harm you. Just think about how food gets charred on the grill, etc and you don't get sick.