We're not entirely convinced the Take Back the Filter campaign is a good idea for a few reasons—even though water filters are recycled in some parts of Europe. First, we wonder how big of a problem water filters are, say, compared to plastic bags or bottles. A New York Times article on the subject says water filters are "a minuscule bit of waste." Second, there's the problem of transportation. Trucking the water filters back to a factory would effectively double their carbon output unless they are put on empty trucks that are already going back to the factory. Given the hyper-efficient distribution systems in the US, most of which are modeled after Wal-Mart's just-in-time approach, that is unlikely. Third, while it's true that water filters have less impact than bottled water, there are other sources of waste to focus on first. If it were up to us, we'd go after that maddening clear plastic clamshell packaging that is so hard to open, not recyclable, and occasionally dangerous.
But, in an ideal world, manufacturers would have to take back the stuff they sell for recycling and eventual reuse. The question is where to start.