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.

The Effect PPE Has On the Environment

** DISCLAIMER: THIS ARTICLE IS NOT ANTI-MASK. IT SUPPORTS MASK WEARING AND OTHER PPE**

Gull stuck in face mask
BBC. (2020). The elastic straps on the face covering had become increasingly tight around the gull’s legs [Photograph]. BBC. https://www.bbc.com/news/uk-england-essex-53474772

The modern world has turned to PPE (Personal Protection Equipment) as a way to protect from the Coronavirus. PPE is any piece of equipment that helps protect not only the wearer but also any other person around the wearer. Examples of PPE include basic medical equipment such as gloves, masks, and eye protection. Although wearing basic PPE, against deadly diseases, isn’t a novel concept, the sudden increase in demand and removal of PPE may have detrimental effects on the environment around us. 

The PPE that will be mostly studied in this article is  masks. Within the past few months, masks can be sold almost anywhere; however, the mask that is most commonly found within the public is the surgical masks. They are approved by the FDA and the CDC. Surgical masks protect from hazardous fluids and respiratory emissions. They are mainly constructed from non-woven fabric, which according to INDA.org are, “broadly defined as sheet or web structures bonded together by entangling fiber or filaments,” and “flat, porous sheets that are made directly from separate fibers or from molten plastic or plastic film.”  Examples of these materials include polystyrene, polyester, polycarbonate, and polyethylene. These are great materials to use in protective equipment because of the properties it is able to supply the wearers. Some of the properties include, liquid repellency, bacterial barrier, sterility, filtering, and cushioning (INDA, 2019). 

In these situations, it is equally as important to look at both sides of the argument. Mask wearing does stop the spread of the Coronavirus. As an environmental organization, Eco-Youth must raise awareness of  how this simple act could harm the planet. Ever since the start of the pandemic, researchers have been finding masks everywhere, including uninhabited islands of Soko in Hong Kong.  This is not good for the wildlife and the environment as a whole. Since the masks are primarily made of plastic fabrics, animals can end up eating the sing-use mask or other PPE. Even worse, the increasing flow of masks and other single-use PPE, which can have a lifespan up to 450 years, can lead to “impaired mobility, infection, limb amputation, starvation, suffocation, and death,” (Ocean Asia, 2020)  in marine life. This not only happens in countries like China, but the same effect has been studied in France where conservationists from the non-profit Opération Mer Propre have studied the French coastline and found the aftermath of the single-use PPE in the waters of the Mediterranean . Laurent Lombard, one of the people on Opération Mer Propre, warned the public on his Facebook by saying, “there is likely to be more masks than jellyfish in Mediterranean waters…!” 

From floating face masks to recycling cutbacks: how the pandemic has hit  the war on plastic
Laurent Lombard/Operation Mer Propr. (2020). Gloves and protective face masks seen in the Mediterranean in May, held by a volunteer clean-up diver [Photograph]. The Telegraph. https://www.telegraph.co.uk/global-health/climate-and-people/floating-face-masks-recycling-cutbacks-pandemic-has-hit-war/

The world must take environmental precautions to prevent further damage to the environment. Countries like France have taken strides to prevent further contamination because not long after Mr. Lombard posted his concerns, a French politician, Eric Pauget expressed his concerns to the President of France, calling forth an effort to collect, recycle, decontaminate or sort the single-use masks to lessen the “environmental footprint in [French] societies.” (Eric Puaget, 2020). 

As a consumer, there are many options to choose from that can help from stopping the transmission of the Coronavirus and still be eco-friendly. It is important to know that some reusable face masks do not have the same medical-grade standards as some single-use masks. They might fit looser, so might not block all the small particles. Please still wear a mask to minimize contact with contaminated areas. If you are still using the single-use please cut off the straps because they can end up entrapping wildlife and end up posing a threat to their life.  Here are some eco-friendly options to choose from:

Masks from the Old Navy are equipped with three layers of cloth. They are made of 100% cotton, and are machine washed, and tumble dried. The Old Navy offers many patterns; however, most are on backorder. 

O2 Canada is a little more expensive than the rest of the other brands; however, it does have the highest protection. The masks come with filters (which will have to be bought if used up). The company provides different colored shells to customize the mask. Also, the mask is equipped with medical-grade silicone to provide a snug fit. 

Hyper Good upcycles waste to prevent waste coming into landfills. This company uses leftover materials to create their masks. Hyper Goos has a movement called BETTER PPE in which they donate a mask to an essential workers for every mask that is sold. 

Selva Negra is a LA-based company. They used eco-friendly materials such as cotton, silk, and linen. Most of the designs are plaid. They are also machine washable, but must be hung out to dry. 

Made Trade masks offer a two-layer face mask and are made of recycled materials  (hemp and organic cotton). They follow CDC and Kaiser Permanente’s guidelines for cloth face coverings. The masks come in adult and kids sizing, with an option for a filter (not included). Made Trade offers four colors to choose from. 

PLEASE CONTINUE FOLLOWING CDC GUIDELINES TO LIMIT THE SPREAD OF COVID-19!