Is Brita greenwashing?

cartridgeI’ve seen the “30 minutes on a treadmill, forever in a landfill” commercial plenty of times and haven’t given it much thought. I haven’t been a bottled-water drinker for a while, and feel that for the most part, the message makes sense. However, in the last week we’ve changed filters in the pitchers at home and at work, and I checked the PUR water website to see if they’ve started a recycling program for their filters yet for my home pitcher (they haven’t). So the issue was still pretty fresh in my mind when I saw another one of the Brita commercials last night; this time it was “45 minutes in traffic, forever in a landfill.” I hopped online and checked Brita’s website, and they recently (as in this month) have started a recycling program for their cartridges in the US after some pushing last year. (Apparently in Germany, France, Ireland, Great Britain and Switzerland, this has been going on for a while). Clorox, the owner of Brita in North America, partnered with Whole Foods Markets and Preserve to roll out their recycling program. The reality for Seattle residents that there are NO Whole Foods locations in WA that support the Preserve Gimme 5 plastics recycling campaign as of now, and so the only option for recycling these cartridges is to send them to Preserve’s headquarters in Cortland, NY. According to Google Maps, that means the package has to travel 2772 miles from my house to Preserve, on a truck (and likely in and airplane) to be recycled, which just seems to me like trading one environmental impact for another. (Arguably, it would still have to be shipped if I dropped it off at a Whole Foods location, but at least there would be some additional cartridges to keep my little guy company, lessening the overall impact.) Luckily Preserve’s directions for how to mail the filter to them includes a plan for recycling the boxes and the packing, but it is still a far cry from the product stewardship the company has already demonstrated is possible in Germany. I think that it is safe to assume that a large number of people, when faced with what to do at the end of their filter’s 3-month life, will likely continue to throw the filter away, especially if they’re not aware that Brita recently made this change. Even in Germany, where the long-standing recycling process has fewer hoops to jump through and more locations for recapture, Brita only receives one out of four cartridges for recycling. While the first step should be for every concerned person to ask their Whole Foods manager to participate in Preserve’s Gimme 5 recycling program, there has to be a better option for recycling the cartridges. It makes me question whether the intent of their “Forever in a landfill” campaign is anything more than competitive strategy to beat all the bottled-water pushers, since they seem more concerned about eliminating bottled water waste than truly avoiding waste. Perhaps instead of focusing on the negative aspects of their competitors’ products, they should be think about how to be better stewards of their own.

-Audrey Chestnutt