Fussing with Filters

With tap water quality increasingly under fire in the court of public opinion, the market for home water filter systems has surged. Co-op America says consumers who are still concerned about their tap water, or who don’t like its taste, should consider filters over bottled water, since they are less ecologically harmful (and considerably cheaper per serving). Filters are reusable and result in less waste and transportation than bottled water.

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Filters ranging from whole-house units to faucet and pitcher devices can be designed to remove a wide spectrum of contaminants, including chlorine, mercury, lead, cadmium, benzene, asbestos, pesticides and pipe sediments. However, consumers should do some research before deciding on a brand or model, because there is considerable variability in quality and price. According to the Federal Trade Commission, no branch of the U.S. government endorses, approves, tests or monitors any home water safety products—despite the advertising claims of a few filter manufacturers.

Of course, energy and materials are still needed for filter production and distribution. And, as alternative filter manufacturer Life Streams International points out, "Far from being treated as hazardous waste, used-up filter components such as cartridges, papers or entire units generally end up in a landfill, where they may release the toxic materials they originally collected from water back into the environment." Environmentalists also caution that filters are still no substitute for proper watershed conservation and management.

Recycling water filters is not easy, but there are options. Leading manufacturer Brita, which has had a filter-recycling program in its home base of Germany for years, says it will soon be able to offer the service to American consumers as well. For a little more money, consumers can also invest in systems like those made by Global Environmental Technologies, whose TerraFlo products come with pre-paid shipping labels for returning the used cartridges for proper disposal. Co-op America’s Erica Hesch Anstey says, "Consumers should try to recycle used filters, and should tell manufacturers they should help take the filters back." Consumers can also patronize the water purification companies found in Co-op America’s National Green Pages, which screens for social and environmental sustainability.

Filters are not needed to extract chlorine from drinking water because simply exposing water in a clear, uncovered bottle to sunlight for an hour, or leaving water in the refrigerator (in an open container) for 24 hours, will allow the chlorine to dissipate out of the liquid into the air. To remove the odor of chlorine, tap water can be poured from one container to another around ten times.