Vaping has become a new mass trend for those who want a smoking alternative. For those unaware, vapes come in various flavours and sizes, some disposable and others refillable. The main problem lies with disposable ones. They use artificial flavouring to make the taste attractive, such as watermelon or grape, using bright colours to match. The majority of disposable vapes also contain nicotine salts, making them addictive.
Why is vaping an environmental threat?
Many people overlook the environmental impact of vaping. Unlike smoking a cigarette that has multiple toxic chemicals, it is not caused by the contents within the vape. Instead, it is where they end up after they run out.
"A recent study suggested more than half of vapes are thrown directly into the bin. Up to 1.3 million single-use vapes are thrown away each week."
Disposable vapes are made out of batteries, plastic and copper. If it ends up in a landfill, the plastic can take up to 1000 years before it degrades. If it doesn't make it to a waste site, it is likely to have been discarded on the street. Vapes are classified as waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE), incorrect disposal can cause hazardous chemical waste and also plastic pollution. This is significantly worrying as it is suggested many consumers are unaware of how to properly dispose of one.
What about the batteries?
The batteries inside the vape may just be the worse part. They contain lithium, a precious and finite resource, which needs to be recycled properly. A standard vape contains just 0.15g of lithium, but the total amount of lithium a year from vapes alone equates to 10 tonnes. This is the equivalent of 1,200 electric car batteries, which would further help us cut down on our emissions by producing more electric cars.
Lithium that is sent to a landfill can cause fires, as well as being a general health and safety risk. Battery acid, hazardous metals and nicotine can all leach into the environment, potentially causing water pollution and air pollution, both of which impact our environment. Further, the vaping industry has called for support from the government to emphasise and support recycling. To which the government replied with:
"It will set out plans for reform of the existing WEEE regulations in due course."
With the future becoming more reliant on electrical power and the use of batteries, we must create a plan to recycle disposable vapes, we simply cannot afford to waste such large amounts of such a precious material.
Are there any health impacts?
Although there is limited research on the long-term health impacts, vapes are still harmful and have been known to cause an array of health risks such as asthma, chronic lung disease, organ damage and an increased risk of heart attacks. The UK has reported 3 deaths that are linked to vaping, within 5 years between 2016 and 2021, and now with vaping being more popular than ever, we must consider the effects on our bodies.
If we are not careful, more and more people will end up in hospitals with serious health issues that will require medical treatment, this will mean NHS funding will need to increase and more toxic medical waste must be disposed of through incineration, therefore directly contributing to climate change and reducing the amount of money available to fight climate change.
What needs to happen next?
The government should either help assist with a recycling programme that will reduce those that go straight into general waste, or they should review the regulations for manufacturers to find a more sustainable way to produce them.
Vapes are a huge industry with large revenues for multiple companies. They should not be banned from retail as usage is a personal choice, however, tighter regulation is needed for the recycling of disposable vapes, otherwise, we will experience a shortage of key materials along with multiple different types of pollution. Perhaps the responsibility of sustainably disposing of the vape should be shared between the brands that produce and sell them, or maybe a new tax on their sale devoted to the recycling of the product.
People must inform themselves on how to properly dispose of their vapes and encourage others around them to do the same, or else climate change is only going to accelerate.