22. September 2023.
Opis (tag)
E-cigarettes and e-waste – how much damage is there to the environment?

So-called vaping devices consist of a cocktail of precious and dangerous materials, such as aluminum, lithium and stainless steel. All this is covered with plastic. In the last few years, they have become so widespread that it is sometimes difficult to choose between the many varieties to buy. Whether outdoors or indoors, it’s common to see a steamy mist that smells like strawberries or vanilla.

A big problem for the environment – vape waste

Tobacco waste is one of the biggest sources of plastic pollution. A trillion cigarettes are thrown away every year, littering the soil and sea with toxic chemicals and harmful plastic. Today, this new stream of e-waste, e-cigarettes, joins this. Although this new way of smoking is presented as a better alternative to classic tobacco smoking, it is increasingly clear that there is reason to be concerned about the impact on health and the environment. Both in Europe and in the rest of the world.

Photo: Brian Yurasits on unsplash, Cigarette butts and Juul pods found during a beach cleanup at Jenness Beach in Rye, New Hampshire. Cigarette butts are the single most-littered plastic item in the entire world.

Almost three quarters of people in the UK do not recycle their used vapes.

According to research by the e-waste recycling organisation, more than 1.3 million disposable vapes are thrown away every week in Britain, which would mean two e-cigarettes are thrown away every second. Imagine how many will be discarded while reading this article!

It is for this reason that the UK Government will propose plans to tackle the disposal problem as part of a wider reform of e-waste regulations. While there are proposals to ban single-use vape devices, it is more likely to go in the direction of forcing producers to better design their products and pay to recycle them. Producers currently do not provide clear instructions on how to dispose of their products and, in addition, counter-productively advertise and encourage the single-use of products, instead of emphasizing recycling and reuse.

Under UK law, shops are required to collect and recycle all small electronic items free of charge, regardless of whether the vape was purchased there or not. Smaller stores that cannot do this should pay a fee to finance the collection and processing of these products when they become waste. At least that’s how it is in theory.

Demanding recycling

E-cigarettes come in many shapes and sizes. Some are reusable and filled with disposable plastic cartridges, and some are completely disposable. Be that as it may, there is a lot of waste. They are rarely recycled, and 30% are reused. Even when recycled, the components are a fire hazard even if properly disposed of.

Disposable e-cigarettes, which consist of a lithium battery attached to a cartridge and lined with colored plastic, are difficult to handle properly. When breaking down their batteries and circuit boards, vape devices release toxic chemicals into the environment, and the casing grinds into harmful microplastics.

In addition to taking up space in landfills and harming the environment, not recycling lithium and other valuable parts such as copper also represents a loss in the demand for metals, which is crucial in today’s rapidly electrifying world.

A vape device contains an average of 0.15 g of lithium.

On the aforementioned 1.3 million devices discarded each week, this would mean 10 tons of lithium per year, equivalent to the lithium in the batteries inside 1,200 electric vehicles.

Unfortunately, most people are not aware and do not think about what happens to their e-cigarette when they throw it away. The rest, who may be thinking in the right direction, often remain limited in their options and end up throwing them in the trash.

As with the rest of the waste, especially e-waste, local recycling centers run by municipalities, large supermarkets and electrical stores should all be helpful. Recycling needs to be enabled and facilitated, producers and retailers need to work together to become part of the solution. Also, each country is an indispensable factor in promoting safe recycling and waste reduction.

Fortunately, where there is an environmental problem, there are also many ideas that go towards solving each such problem in a sustainable way.


Photo: Romain B on unsplash

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