Vape waste has increased exponentially with the rising popularity of disposable vapes.
The truth is that—like with any technological advancement in history—when we (humanity) invent something, even something as beneficial as vaping, we tend to produce and distribute before considering where those inventions will end up.
This is the problem we’re currently facing in our industry with vape waste.
Why should I care?
First and foremost, Greta Thunberg would be ashamed. “How dare you.”
We know that even when the vape waste doesn’t pile up outside our front doors, it’s piling up in developing countries where e-waste goes to die.
And when you toss your spent Elf Bar in the street, it won’t biodegrade over time like even a cigarette butt would under severe conditions: rather, it’ll slowly erode, leaving behind microplastics, heavy metals like mercury and lead, and the toxic remnants of lithium-ion batteries (including battery acid). All of this seeps into our soil and gets washed into storm drains, polluting our rivers and oceans and harming our wildlife in the process.
Plus, when lithium-ion batteries end up in landfills, they can spontaneously combust, causing fires which we should be keen to avoid.
How can you not care?
Major Culprits of Vape Waste
In an interview with Reuters, Yogi Hale Hendlin of the Center for Tobacco Control Research and Education at the University of California stated, “E-waste is a huge problem globally. Anytime we make something that is disposable, we’re essentially stealing from the future.”
That’s right: disposable vapes may be great news for smokers looking to try vaping without having to buy a whole setup, or for vapers who need something to take with them on the go—but they’re not an ecologically sustainable option and shouldn’t be vapers’ go-to choice.
Hendlin also added, “Most of these devices don’t include instructions on how to dispose of the products, and the ones that do often include a convoluted process, and it gets incinerated in the end, which isn’t ecological at all.”
The Truth Initiative asked a group of over 3,700 participants aged 15-24 what they do with their empty disposable devices and pre-filled pods, and over 50% reported that they simply throw them in the regular rubbish bin—10% said they throw them on the ground.
The simple, difficult truth is there’s currently no ecological way to dispose of empty disposable devices. You heard me: we simply don’t have the infrastructure or procedures in place to handle the combination of lithium-ion battery components, plastic, and leftover juice in a disposable.
Next time you decide to re-up your disposable inventory, consider switching to something that’s refillable instead. You’ll be helping the environment, and you’ll also be saving a lot of money in the process.
Or, consider trying the new Riot Labs disposables, which are made of a biodegradable plastic and are backed by a now worldwide recycling programme. If disposables are all you vape, switching to these carbon-neutral disposables would be a much better choice for the planet.
There has been a revolution in the vaping industry recently with the advent of pod systems: a type of refillable device with a minimal interface (if any) and beginner-friendly features. Pod kits make vaping more accessible to those who want to quit smoking because they’re much less intimidating than the older, more complex vape kit models.
Pod kits aren’t the problem: it’s their plastic pods—many of which are designed with built-in coils, meaning that the entire pod has to be discarded within a few days to a week of use. These pods are hard to dispose of, given their built-in metal components, attached magnets, rubber stoppers, and plastic outer shell. These are another major culprit when it comes to the vape waste problem.
Furthermore, pre-filled pod kits, like the Juul and the various pre-filled Elf Bar devices available here in the UK, utilise pre-filled vape pods. These pods are designed to be vaped until they’re empty, then discarded. For some vapers, this means disposing of a pod or two per day—and the plastic vape waste from these pods really adds up over time.
Not all pod kits are the issue, and they exist for a reason: to help smokers quit. If you’re a pod kit user, perhaps you might consider whether you still need a pod kit specifically. Upgrading to a kit with a glass tank and external batteries would be better for the environment, and you may find that you actually enjoy the feel and taste more than you did with your pod kit anyway.
Or, you could opt instead for a pod device which takes changeable coils, like the Uwell Caliburn G2 Pod Kit—or any of the pod vapes in Aspire’s Flexus range, for that matter. The coils in these devices will last you up to 2 weeks with proper care, and they taste incredible to boot. Changing a coil once every two weeks takes even less effort than chucking pods with integrated coils every few days, and you’ll save money in the process. Plus, think of all the plastic you’ll save from ending up in a landfill!
What is the vape industry doing about the waste problem?
Currently, big names in the vape industry are conceptualising and planning waste disposal programs to tackle the vape waste problem—specifically, the disposable waste problem.
Some—but not all—disposables have vague disposal “instructions,” while others have none at all. I collected the packaging for 6 different disposable brands, only 4 of which included instructions. The ones that even mentioned disposal didn’t have the instructions in an easily visible place; they were all hidden in the “IF SWALLOWED” heading.
One of the frontrunners in tackling the disposable vape waste problem is Riot Labs, who’ve created a massive recycling programme to handle the waste from their new eco-friendly disposables. They’ve also promised to plant trees to offset the carbon emissions from shipping the devices overseas, and they’ve made plans for disposal of the parts of the device which can’t be recycled.
Riot’s plans are certainly a win for eco-warriors everywhere, but we’re hoping to see more companies follow suit in the coming months.
What You Can Do
The absolute best way to vape eco-consciously and not contribute to the vape waste problem is to use a device with removable components; a vape kit with a removable tank, coil, and batteries is ultimately the most climate-friendly device, given that each component can be removed and disposed of separately (and appropriately).
Something like the GeekVape Aegis Legend 2 Kit, for example, will allow you to remove and replace the lithium-ion batteries when they’ve reached the end of their life cycle, and the tank mechanism contains few to no plastic components, meaning that maintenance of the device won’t consume plastic (or produce plastic vape waste).
Vapers looking to improve their carbon footprint would also be saving money by switching to a kit with removable components, as kits with internal or integrated batteries generally only last as long as the battery’s life cycle—which can be anywhere from six months to about a year before you’re looking for a new device. On the flipside, a device which utilises external batteries will last many years, so long as you change the batteries every six months or so. This way, you’ll be cutting down both on vape waste and on costs in the long run.
A kit with removable components may cost you more up front, but you’ll be able to use it for many years to come (so long as you replace the batteries roughly once or twice a year).
Conclusion: Haste Makes Vape Waste
While vape waste may not be newsworthy to some, it’s important to bear in mind the ecological impact of the vapes we’re using.
If you only vape the occasional disposable, good on you. But if you’re someone who uses a disposable vape every day, consider not binning them for a month—keep them in a box under your bed, and see how many of them pile up.
You’d be surprised how much vape waste you’re creating when it’s sitting right in front of you.