As people kick old habits, like smoking cigarettes, they pick up new ones, like vaping. This is like switching out one single-use plastic for another. Instead of littering cigarette butts, plastic pods holding e-liquid are tossed out carelessly. At the end of the day, both habits have a negative impact on your health and the environment.
The use of e-cigarettes, AKA vaping, has been on the rise in recent years. The FDA reports that 20.8 percent of high school students use e-cigs. Flavored e-cigs, which are especially popular among youth, are now the target of bans in several states. Juul, one of the largest e-cig companies on the market, has become a household name when it comes to vaping. Their success has also landed them a spot at the center of the vaping controversy, that has become a part of a public health crisis.
What people often don’t realize is that e-cigs may cause an environmental crisis too. Media coverage focuses on the impact vaping has on human health and its link to a recent spate of mysterious lung illnesses and deaths. But there is also a lack of media coverage, research and awareness around the environmental impacts of e-cig waste.
E-cigs contain microplastics, metals, nicotine, and combustible lithium-ion batteries. The small plastic pods that hold the e-liquid can’t be reused or recycled, so they’re often littered, just like cigarette butts. Discarded pods may still have a residue of nicotine and other toxic chemicals, which can then leak into the environment and harm plant life or contaminate water.
Many e-cigs are also equipped with lithium-ion batteries, which can only be safely disposed of in hazardous waste facilities. In recent years, lithium-ion batteries from a variety of electronic products have sparked fires at landfills, ultimately causing millions of dollars worth of damage.
E-cig packaging doesn’t include instructions for how consumers can safely dispose of the batteries. As a result, they are frequently tossed in the trash or recycling bins.
So what’s the solution?
In a perfect world, people would quit smoking or vaping, and stop littering. But consumers’ actions are just the beginning.
Advocates in California and other states are putting pressure on lawmakers to adopt extended producer responsibility, which requires companies to make recyclable products or establish take-back programs to eliminate waste. Some believe governments should adopt laws that put a mandatory deposit on the devices so people would be more likely to dispose of them properly.
In a recent social media trend, teens who want to quit vaping have filmed themselves dramatically tossing e-cigs away, underscoring how disposable the devices seem. While it’s great that they’re trying to quit, there must be a better way to dispose of these single-use, plastic, and potentially hazardous e-cigs.