First, a few facts for those unfamiliar with this issue:
- The Brita company was founded in Germany in 1966.
- In 1992, Brita introduced the first recycling program for filter cartridges. The cartridges are processed at Brita's plant in Germany, where the components are dismantled and reused. Read more about the Brita recycling process here.
- In 2000, the entire North American division of the company was sold to the The Clorox Company, headquartered in Oakland, CA.
- Today, while the cartridges from the European company are still collected and recycled, the Brita cartridges from North America are not. A letter from Clorox dated March 7, 2008 states:
It's true that Brita filters are recyclable in other countries, because they have recycling programs for such materials. As of now, the U.S. waste management systems are not equipped to collect Brita filters for recycling purposes. (See PDF copies of letters from Clorox representatives: Letter #1 and Letter #2)
Unfortunately, this statement is misinformed. Brita filters are recycled in Europe because Brita has developed its own collection and recycling system for them and not because of city waste management systems. Clorox could choose to do the same.
- Clorox representatives have also indicated in phone conversations that they believed the filters in Europe and the U.S. are made differently, and that's why the U.S. filters cannot be recycled. After having examined both an American pitcher filter and an English pitcher filter, we conclude that they are actually the same.
- In August of 2007, Clorox and Nalgene teamed up for their FilterForGood campaign, encouraging people to buy a reusable Nalgene bottle and fill it with Brita filtered water in order to reduce plastic bottle waste. According to Clorox's letter, "One pour-through filter can effectively replace 300 standard bottles of water (16.9oz)" and "...in 2006 Americans used about 50 billion plastic water bottles."
So, if all 50 billion water bottles were replaced by Brita filter systems, that would mean 167 million plastic filter cartridges sent to the landfill! We're all for giving up bottled water. But we think there's a better way than substituting one kind of plastic waste for another.
- In December of 2007, Clorox purchased Burt's Bees in an attempt to enter the "green" market. In a press release in October 2007, Clorox Chairman and CEO Donald R. Knauss states:
With this transaction, we're entering into a new strategic phase for our company, enabling us to expand further into the natural/sustainable business platform. The Burt's Bees® brand is well-anchored in sustainability and health and wellness, and we believe it will benefit from natural and "green" tailwinds. It's in an economically attractive category with a margin structure that will be highly accretive to Clorox. Combined with our new Green Works™ line of natural cleaning products, and Brita® water-filtration products, we can leverage Burt's Bees' extensive capabilities and credibility to build a robust, higher-growth platform for Clorox.
Our plea to Clorox is this: If your desire to help the planet by entering the "green" marketplace is sincere, please begin by "greening" the products you already produce. Providing a take-back recycling program for your water filter cartridges would be a great step, especially considering that the model technology already exists!
So why are we focusing on Brita rather than other water filter companies?
- Brita has the #1 market share of pour-through filter cartridges in the U.S. and Canada. It's the #1 faucet-mount filter in Canada and the #2 faucet-mount filter in the U.S. (Per Clorox's 2007 Annual Report.)
- The recycling infrastructure exists within the European branch of the company already.
- By purchasing Burt's Bees, developing GreenWorks cleaning products, and creating the FilterForGood campaign, Clorox is making a bid to appeal to environmentally-conscious consumers at this time. Taking responsibility for its plastic waste would be a great way for the company to "walk its talk."