Vaping: More than Lung Harm

Vaping seems to be an easier alternative for those trying to quit smoking. Several brands are nicotine-free and offer a better solution to quit or ease into the process of not smoking. However, throughout the past few years vaping, formally known as e-cigarettes, have become very popular for both adults and teenagers. Brands such as JUUL and Lava2  have risen in popularity. These brands contain nicotine and can be highly addictive, as well as degenerative for the health of young adults in particular. Vaping can also be linked to many environmental hazards.

CBS Denver. (2019). Vaping Trash: Litter Increasingly Gets Noticed Around Boulder [Photograph]. CBS Denver. https://denver.cbslocal.com/2019/05/20/vaping-cartridges-litter-pods-boulder-high-school-vape/

Vapes are tiny devices that use a “battery to heat up a special liquid into an aerosol that users inhale” (American Lung Association, 2020). The devices are becoming a staple piece on the beach and starting to overpopulate the typical pollutant that might be expected to see such as plastic bottles and 6-pack rings. There are many factors that vapes contribute to polluting the earth; however,  the first problem with vapes is they are encased in a plastic that  is not biodegradable or even recyclable. The best action for recycling vape pens would be an electronic recycling facility where any electronic with a circuit board can be recycled. This accounts for computers, phones, printers, and even stereos. The brand JUUL runs into a problem with electronic recycling because they do not contain circuit boards. This makes them virtually impossible to recycle as a whole, leaving regular garbage cans the only option for disposing of a vape. The flavored pods that can be bought for vapes cause an even greater risk for the environment. Since the pods contain additives such as nicotine, they cannot be recycled like any other plastic product “because the nicotine is toxic, which means the pods are essentially hazardous waste” (Donnelly Tim, 2019). The pods themselves are very small pieces of plastic. In 2017, the company JUUL managed to sell 16.2 million devices along with 175 million refill kit pods. It can be estimated that “easily over a billion and as many as two billion little squares of plastic [go] into the trash each year” (Donnelly Tim, 2019). This can lead to sudden surges in increased plastic pollution in waterways along with landfills. 

Vapes are powered by batteries, and the  most commonly used are lithium-ion batteries (commonly found in smartphones). They are great batteries to use because they can supply lots of power with multiple charges. Compared to other batteries, they are more stable and supply higher energy than other rechargeable batteries. Problems arise with lithium-ion batteries when the lifetime of the battery ends. Most consumers will toss them in the regular garbage bin where it will be mixed with other trash and can possibly leak hazardous materials into the environment. The production of such batteries also isn’t the most eco-friendly either. Lithium extraction ends up changing the natural landscape such as the extraction of lithium in North America where traditional mining methods are used. However, in places in South America like Bolivia, Argentina, and Chile, where the metal is most abundant, the techniques used to extract the metal end up causing more harm than good. The process of lithium extraction starts with extracting brine from salt flats to leaving a mixture of “manganese, potassium, borax and lithium salts” to evaporate a year at a time. The evaporation can use up to “500,000 gallons [of water] per tonne of lithium” (Katwala Amit, 2018). If this mixture leaks into local waterways it can poison the wildlife and people in the area. In some cases, it left local waterways in Chile with “unnatural blue hue[s]” (Katwala Amit, 2018). With the battery created and set up for consumers to use, it can lead to damaging effects if used improperly. If damage is inflicted upon the battery, then a fire is inevitable. The gas released from the battery is a mix of different fluoride gases (hydrogen fluoride, phosphoryl fluoride). These gases can lead to long term health effects such as chronic lung disease, skin damage, and eye damage (if exposed to eyes).

Example of what the toxic fumes from a lithium-ion battery look like. Burn Hard Zen. (December 28,2014). Lithium Battery Causing Extreme Fumes When Cut [Video]. Youtube. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BLc74Qpvweg

Improper disposal of vapes, such as throwing into the ocean or the regular waterways, can have devastating effects on the environment. The toxic chemical inside of the vape liquid and the lithium-ion batteries can leak into the waterways and pollute the oceans and local drinking waters.

Example of a lithium mine in Atacama, Chile. Alvarado, I (2018). [ Lithium extraction on a lithium mine in Chile] [Photograph]. Reuters. https://widerimage.reuters.com/story/water-fight-raises-questions-over-chile-lithium-mining

However, there might still be hope for disposing of vape pens and their pods. If taken apart and each part is recycled on its own, then vapes such as JUUL’s can be disposed of properly and more safely. PEGEX, a hazardous waste disposal service, said to Guardian that in order to properly dispose of hazardous waste such as the vape pen it requires, “removing the filler material, rinsing it under running water until all nicotine residues are removed” (Paul Kira, 2019). The same procedure should be done for the pods,  with the only difference being  that the pods should be sealed with the original plug. The batteries for the vapes should be taken to a proper facility such as an electronic waste facility or even a battery recycling location. The acceptance of such items varies from locations, so contact to these locations is necessary in order for proper disposal. 

Works Cited

“About Electronic Cigarettes (E-Cigarettes).” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 9 Sept. 2020, http://www.cdc.gov/tobacco/basic_information/e-cigarettes/about-e-cigarettes.html.

Beres, Damon. “The Unseen Consequences of Your Juul Habit.” Mashable, Mashable, 9 May 2018, mashable.com/2018/05/09/juul-e-waste-recycling/.

Bird, Sophie. “Waste from Vapes Is Polluting Environment.” Indiana Environmental Reporter, 29 Oct. 2019, http://www.indianaenvironmentalreporter.org/posts/waste-from-vapes-is-polluting-environment.

“CDC.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 4 Apr. 2018, emergency.cdc.gov/agent/hydrofluoricacid/basics/facts.asp.

Katwala, Amit. “The Spiralling Environmental Cost of Our Lithium Battery Addiction.” WIRED UK, WIRED UK, 3 Aug. 2018, http://www.wired.co.uk/article/lithium-batteries-environment-impact.

Larsson, Fredrik, et al. “Toxic Fluoride Gas Emissions from Lithium-Ion Battery Fires.” Nature News, Nature Publishing Group, 30 Aug. 2017, http://www.nature.com/articles/s41598-017-09784-z.

“Sales of JUUL e-Cigarettes Skyrocket, Posing Danger to Youth.” Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2 Oct. 2018, http://www.cdc.gov/media/releases/2018/p1002-e-Cigarettes-sales-danger-youth.html.

Transcribers, Motley Fool. “Altria Group Inc (MO) Q1 2019 Earnings Call Transcript.” The Motley Fool, The Motley Fool, 25 Apr. 2019, http://www.fool.com/earnings/call-transcripts/2019/04/25/altria-group-inc-mo-q1-2019-earnings-call-transcri.aspx.

“Vaping’s Other Problem: Are e-Cigarettes Creating a Recycling Disaster?” The Guardian, Guardian News and Media, 27 Aug. 2019, http://www.theguardian.com/society/2019/aug/26/vapings-other-problem-are-e-cigarettes-creating-a-recycling-disaster.

“What’s in an E-Cigarette?” American Lung Association, http://www.lung.org/quit-smoking/e-cigarettes-vaping/whats-in-an-e-cigarette.

“Your Vape Litter Is Becoming an Environmental Disaster.” Earther, 24 Oct. 2019, earther.gizmodo.com/your-vape-litter-is-becoming-an-environmental-disaster-1839226689.

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