Are Air Filters Recyclable?
Air filters are essential devices for keeping your home’s air supply free of bothersome odors and potentially dangerous pollutants. If your home or office has an HVAC system, which it most likely does, you definitely enjoy the benefits of air filters every day.
Depending on the type of air filter you have, the number of people in your home or office, and the number of filters present in your HVAC system, you probably have to replace filters pretty often. But what do you do with the old filter after you take it out? Can you recycle an air filter?
If you’ve been wondering this, the answer is yes. You can recycle air filters, but it depends on what type you have. Keep on reading because in this article, we’ll go over what air filters are made out of, how they work, and whether or not your air filter is recyclable.
What are Air Filters Made Of?
For the HVAC system of homes and buildings, there are two main types of air filters. You most likely have one of these two types of filters. The first is the pleated filter. Pleated filters are made of pliable materials such as cotton, polyester, and paper. These materials are layered upon each other and can be folded many times over.
The highest-level pleated filters are also made of acrylic fibers and polypropylene. These are high-quality synthetic plastics that trap the tiniest of particles.
The second type of HVAC air filter are fiberglass filters. Fiberglass air filters are made of spun fiberglass. These filters are typically the lowest on the Minimum Efficiency Reporting Values, or MERV scale that measures how small of particles can be caught by the filter. Fiberglass filters occupy the MERV 2-4 class while pleated filters can occupy the MERV 4-13 range.
HEPA filters are another type of filter with an interesting composition. HEPA filters are a blend of both synthetic plastic and fiberglass. Lastly there are washable fabric filters that are commonly used by home furnaces. These filters are made of washable electrostatic fibers that can be reused after washing. These are rated as high as 8 on the MERV scale.
How do Air Filters Work?
Air filters of all types tend to work in the same way with some slight variations in specific functions and maintenance. The goal of all air filters is to trap tiny air pollutants, keeping the air passing through them clean. Pleated filters use their accordion-like design to stack as much folded material between its frames as possible.
This stacked material will trap any particles that are large enough to be trapped. These are typically rated as MERV 8-13, meaning that they can catch all dust, dirt, skin, hair, pet dander, and some pathogens that try to pass through it. With pleated filters, redundancy is the name of the game.
Fiberglass filters use finely-sewn fiberglass panels stacked upon each other and overlapping with each other to catch as many fine particles as possible. This efficient design is decently effective at catching fine particles, but doesn’t come close to the potential of pleated filters. As mentioned before, fiberglass filters belong in the lower tiers of MERV, from 2-4.
HEPA filters are the heavy-duty air filters. They are most commonly used in hospital surgery suites because they are so effective at keeping the tiniest of particles out of the air. HEPA filters can catch bacteria colonies that float through the air, and even water particles carrying viruses.
While HEPA filters are very effective, they’re not ideal for home use. The filters are so effective that they can interfere with the airflow of a home HVAC system. This will make your HVAC system need to harness more electricity as it works harder to push clean air through the heavy HEPA filter.
Lastly, washable filters are similar to pleated filters in their effectiveness and methodology, but can be reused after being cleaned of all the debris it has caught. If you use an air filter that uses a washable material mesh, you should clean it once every few days.
What Types of Air Filters are Recyclable?
These are all the types of filters, whether they are not recyclable, and why.
Pleated air filters have components that can be recycled, but you cannot toss the entire unit into the recycling bin. Depending on the recycling regulations in your region, the plastic, paper, and cardboard parts of the air filter can be recycled. Simultaneously, the cotton parts cannot.
Additionally, make sure to clean some of the components that you choose to recycle. Air filters can become very dirty after even a short time of use, depending on how many people are in your home, whether or not you have pets, or what kind of business you’re running.
No matter what you’re recycling, make sure it's somewhat clean before putting into the recycling bin. Next, there are fiberglass air filters. These are just simply not recyclable. Fiberglass is virtually impossible to recycle, so don’t even try. HEPA filters are also not recyclable. The materials they are made of cannot be reused after production, so just throw these in the trash after use.
Lastly, washable filters cannot be recycled, but they’re reusable so there’s no need for recycling anyway. This is the main advantage of washable filters. Their reusability makes them very environmentally friendly, as you will create no waste by using them.
On the other hand, keep an eye on the type of frame that is keeping the filter together. If you it’s made of plastic, paper, or cardboard, it could be recycled depending on your local recycling ordinances.
In summary, the only type of air filter that is somewhat recyclable is the pleated air filter. To recycle them, just take the recyclable components out and wipe the debris off. Throw everything else in the trash once you’re done. The most environmentally friendly air filter is without a doubt the reusable washable air filters. These create zero waste as you throw nothing in the trash other than the debris collected by the filter.