Blowing smoke: is vaping waste as bad as cigarette butts?

Consumers are not properly aware of the dangers of e-cigarette waste, with whole vaping devices being sent straight to landfill rather than being recycled.

E-cigarettes reduce the level of toxic cigarette waste but add to levels of WEEE

E-cigarettes reduce the level of toxic cigarette waste but add to levels of WEEE

That’s according to waste management company Business Waste, which claims e-cigarettes are pose an increasing problem for waste management firms across the country. 

Business Waste’s commercial manager Mark Hall says consumers need stronger guidelines for disposing of the products.

“Users don't know how to recycle their vaping waste,” said Hall. “So it's slipping through the net and ending up in general waste that's destined for landfill, and that's something we're keen to avoid.”

Hall added that e-cigarette waste liquids and batteries can be as damaging to the environment as the poisons released from traditional cigarette butts.

“Traditional cigarette ends when dumped in landfill release poisons into the ground that can harm water tables and damage plants and animals,” said Hall. “E-cigarette refuse is mainly plastics and batteries that may take centuries to break down.”

Vaping boom

The number of ‘vapers’ is increasing significantly every year, with many seeing the sticks as a safe and cleaner alternative to tobacco. According to YouGov, there are now more than 2.1 million vapers in the UK. Insights firm Nielsen claims the e-cigarette market could be worth £340m in the UK by 2015, so e-cigarette waste can be expected to increase as more smokers make the switch to vaping.

E-cigarette waste classifies as waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE), which is often not properly disposed of or recycled. Writing for edie earlier this month, Scott Butler of the European Recycling Platform said WEEE is one of the EU’s fastest growing waste streams, with more than nine million tonnes generated since 2005.

Tom Pruen, chief scientific officer of the Electronic Cigarette Industry Trade Association, rejected the idea that e-cigarette waste and chemicals were more dangerous than traditional cigarette ends.

Pruen told edie that, since they are supplied with a recycling mark on the product, most e-cigarettes can be recycled. “If they are ending up in landfill this would seem to imply a lack of understanding on the part of consumers about what the symbol and its associated instructions mean,” he said.

Educating consumers

According to Pruen, most liquids used to make the vapour of e-cigarettes have low toxicity, with the exception of nicotine, which makes up less than 3% of most of the liquids. He added most of liquids used in the e-cigarettes were biodegradable.

However, he did admit that sometimes consumers are unaware of how best to dispose of e-waste. “In principle, the use of rechargeable batteries, refillable e-cigs and products made from recyclable components should mean that the environmental impact is low, and that waste should be reduced compared with the endless supply of cigarette butts,” he said.

“This does depend on end users following the recycling instructions they are given - and it would seem that this is an area where more education is needed across the whole scope of WEEE and batteries recycling, rather than an issue which primarily concerns e-cigs.”

Recycling incentives

Some e-cigarette companies enjoying the vaping boom have already begun putting sustainability measures in place to encourage their recycling. E-cigarette company Blu recently teamed up with SWR Waste Management to recycle their products and E-Lites now allows customers to return their ‘E-Tips’ for recycling in exchange points which can be redeemed for fresh e-cigarettes and batteries.

Advice from the e-cigarette company Vapestick explains to vapers how best to dispose of their used batteries and e-cig cartridges. A Vapestick blogpost states: “One of the many great benefits of electric cigarettes is the fact that they don’t lead to dirty cigarette butts littering the ground everywhere we walk.

“At the same time though, e-cigarettes can pose environmental dangers if they (and their parts) are not always disposed of properly.”

The e-cigarette vendor says batteries should be properly recycled to prevent them ending up in landfill sites and cartridges, which holds the liquid and nicotine for the e-cigarette, should be properly cleaned before they are thrown away. Vapestick also claims ‘disposable e-cigarettes’, which cannot be broken down, can be disposed of at battery collection points.

Matt Field


| waste management | WEEE | waste batteries


Waste & resource management
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