How disposable vapes are impacting sustainability and recycling
By John Dillon, VP Marketing Superfy, 28 September 2023
E-Cigarettes, also known as vapes, are becoming increasingly popular in recent years, despite them being considered “new” to the market. According to a 2021 survey run in the EU, Ireland has the highest rate of people who use e-cigarettes or disposable vapes across the EU at 7%, with the EU average being 2% [Eurobameter, source]. In addition to the health implications of vaping which are similar to that of cigarettes, another significant issue is at play: the sustainability of single-use vapes and the impact that they’re having on recycling and the environment.
Many countries, including Ireland, are already taking measures to reduce the amount of waste produced by single-use vapes, with festivals such as Electric Picnic banning single-use, disposable vapes to reduce waste produced. With over 80,000 attendees, the initiative was a positive step toward highlighting the negative impact that single-use vapes can have on the environment. However, the onus must also be put on vape manufacturers to ensure adequate recycling measures are put in place.
The makeup of disposable vapes and how to effectively recycle them
Unlike cigarettes which are composed of tobacco and a thin rolling paper coating and plastic-based butt, vapes are made of a plastic casing and are powered often by a lithium single-use battery. Reusable vapes (which are chargeable) don’t fall into this category as they have a much longer life. Although cigarettes can still cause considerable waste, vapes pose a much higher environmental and safety risk due to the battery inside them. There are some vape companies that are already taking positive steps towards recycling vapes and encouraging better disposal of them. Vape producer FEELM (UK-based) launched a scheme where for every 10 vapes returned (thus recycled) consumers will receive a free vape in exchange [source]. FEELM are one of the UK’s largest vaping companies, and believe that they have “a responsibility to address concerns about the rapidly growing waste stream”.
Elf bar, another globally known vape brand has started to educate its consumers on how to safely dispose of and recycle its products:
“Vape supplier Elf Bar has launched the GreenPowercycle recycling programme with Recover, a UK lithium recycling company. Through the GreenPowercycle recycling scheme, Elf Bar has placed recycling bins to collect used Elf Bar products in its retail partners’ UK-based stores.
The collected devices are transported to an Authorized Approved Treatment Facility (AATF) certified organization, where they are completely and thoroughly disassembled for recycling. The GreenPowercycle recycling program ensures that all the components within the vapes, including the plastics and metals, undergo a rigorous disassembly and recycling procedure.” [source]
And finally, vape giant Lost Mary is also educating their consumers on how to effectively recycle their single-use vapes for a more sustainable approach, although no partnerships are currently listed on their website.
How smart technology can alleviate the pressure
Despite many vape companies starting to engage in preliminary schemes, more needs to be done beyond encouraging consumers to simply drop off their vapes. The reality is, many consumers will choose the “easy” route (throwing their vape in the bin) as opposed to a more sustainable option, unless it becomes accessible on a larger scale. A logical answer is partnering with battery recycling companies to collect disposable vapes, as well as using smart technology (such as Superfy’s solution) to provide additional collection safety, operational efficiency and insights around where the most vapes are being discarded. That way, vape companies can invest in smart bins and smart technology to not only measure the effectiveness of their efforts (which will aid their CSR initiatives) but also to recycle their products and make a real impact.
A great example of a partnership organisation is Ecocycle, based in Australia; they work across all types of batteries including household batteries, as well as phone, computer batteries, and button cells. Using the Superfy platform and sensors enables them to work efficiently on behalf of their partnership organisations, ensuring a more sustainable and safe approach to recycling battery-powered products. Smart technology, such as what we provide at Superfy, gives power back to manufacturers to make a real difference. Companies cannot put all of the responsibility on consumers to have a sustainable outlook without the correct education as well as accessibility. The big win for organisations is that if they participate in pilot projects, then they can receive positive recognition for their brand and how they’re meeting CSR and EPR properly!
Vapes need to be circular too
The bottom line is that there’s so much that still needs to be done to tackle the sustainability of vapes. Vape manufacturers and other e-cigarette brands have a responsibility to ensure that their products are being recycled and disposed of safely and effectively, just as much as the end consumer. Just like cigarettes, we cannot ban vapes completely around the globe, although some countries have taken steps to ban disposable vapes (Hong Kong, Brazil and Brunei). The technology exists to deal with the environmental and safety concerns associated with vape collection and recycling. It’s time for vape organisations and governments to start adopting them.
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