Vaping and the environment – everything you need to know.
We’re all trying to be environmentally friendly these days, and for a lot of people that means cutting down on plastic waste. It’s difficult to vape these days without encountering some form of single use plastic, although there are still some vape juice brands that use glass bottles.
But what’s the likely impact of vaping on the environment, and how can we try to minimize the amount of plastic waste we produce while vaping?
Is vaping as bad as cigarettes for the environment?
Simply put, no.
Cigarette butts don’t just smell disgusting, they are also one of the most pervasive forms of pollution. There are a staggering 4.5 trillion individual cigarette butts polluting the oceans right now, making them a bigger polluter than plastic straws, bags or bottles.
And those butts aren’t made of paper. The vast majority are actually made of cellulose acetate, which is a man made plastic which takes about ten years to biodegrade – so the cigarettes in the ocean at the time of writing could have been smoked as far back as 2012. Smoking-related debris counts for about a third of the debris found on beaches, in rivers and in streams today according to the Cigarette Butt Pollution Project.
But it gets worse. Unlike plastic waste from vaping products, cigarette buts contain all the toxic chemicals found in smoke. Which is what leads to those nasty brown stains on used cigarette filters. Toxins in cigarette butts can include formaldehyde, nicotine, arsenic, lead, copper, chromium, cadmium, and a variety of polyaromatic hydrocarbons (PAHs). Cigarette butts leach those toxins into our natural systems from the moment they’re stubbed out.
We could go on to talk about how many millions are spent trying (and largely failing) to clean all of this up every year, but bottom line: if you’ve switched from smoking to vaping, you have probably already made a positive environmental choice.
But cigarettes don’t have batteries. What about those?
Batteries are particularly complicated to dispose of in an environmentally friendly way, but there is a lot vapers can do to minimize their footprint by taking a few simple steps.
Most vaping devices or vape pens use a lithium ion battery, which can often be recharged over and over again, giving the product a reasonably long lifespan. And many places have collection or drop-off schemes in place for used household batteries to be recycled – for example, battery recycling containers can be found across the UK.
A vaper will likely go through more batteries if they use disposable vapes. These are really popular as a convenience product and it’s easy to see why. While a lot of the refillable atomizers or pods and larger batteries have longer life spans, they are less convenient.
With disposables, it’s pretty much plug and play. It’s critical that vapers don’t move back to smoking, so if disposables are most comfortable for you then better to stick with them. But if you can, move at least partially to a pod-based or refillable system.
How about bottles and cartridges?
Empty bottles, pods, atomizers and cartridges might still have nicotine in them, and you should avoid disposing of these without taking some precautions. The FDA recommends they be handled in the same way as dish soap and other hazardous household items. This includes;
- Check local resources for regulations and hazardous waste collection sites
- Seal used vapes and keep no longer than 90 days before disposal
- Do not rinse e-liquid from cartridges — it may contaminate water
- Avoid getting e-liquid on skin
- Keep vapes away from kids and pets
In addition, larger bottled product formats will naturally contain less plastic for the same amount of vape juice. So you might consider moving to larger product formats if those are available where you are. And finally, some ejuice manufacturers use recycled plastic for their bottles, and some still offer glass.
Tips for more eco-friendly vaping
If you’re hoping to keep your single use plastic consumption down while vaping, we’ve put together our five top tips to help you make more environmentally friendly choices when you vape:
- Make sure you stay off smoking – this is the first and most important rule. Cigarette butts are highly damaging to the environment and it’s almost impossible to dispose of them in an environmentally friendly manner. They’re also pretty bad for your health and frankly best avoided at all costs.
- Vape with reusable batteries where you can – batteries can be reused; and so whether you prefer pre filled pods systems, refillable pod mods or traditional tanks and batteries, use these where you can. In some instances, disposables will be a helpful choice too, but try to keep your use of these to situations where prefilled models aren’t available.
- Use larger format products where available – whether it’s bottled e-liquids or pod based systems, use larger formats where you can. The lower the plastic-to-liquid ratio is in your vaping setup, the less waste plastic you’ll create.
- Look for local recycling facilities for batteries if you can – lots of places have government-backed facilities or mandated battery collection schemes in place. If you live in one of those places, check the internet to understand the systems in place where you are and use them.
- Dispose of e-liquid safely – nicotine can be harmful to aquatic life, so make sure you don’t pour ejuice down the sink if you can avoid it.