E-Cigarettes Creating New Waste Stream

By Benjamin Cox on March 11, 2020 at 1:17pm

While the Illinois health officials are focused on the negative effects vaping has on people’s wellness, the Illinois Environmental Protection Agency is working to slow the impact of damage caused by the waste from vaping devices and their residual products

James Jennings, the manager of waste reduction and compliance for the IEPA, says that many of the products are pollutants of natural resources. He said the study on the components of E-cigarette waste started 4 months ago due to the intersection with the state’s electronic recycling program. He said that some e-waste recyclers were seeing a heavy influx of the devices and they weren’t equipped to take them. “There are 3 components to e-cigarettes that create immediate environmental problems when they are no longer used. One of the things that we were, in a certain degree, encouraged in our findings were that these are all items that can currently be handled through existing recovery infrastructures. It’s incumbent upon us and some of the entities that we’re looking to partner relay that reality to users and retailers of e-cigarettes.”

Jennings said that the e-cigarette pods pose some of the biggest threats to the environment because they are plastic usually and contain nicotine. “Under current Illinois environmental regulations, nicotine is a hazardous substance. Consequently, it has to be handled in a certain way, and what that means for individual users is that while the pod that has residual nicotine in it could be thrown in with regular trash. The safer, more environmentally sound avenue of disposal is to take those items to a household hazardous waste collection event or, if available, a medication take back location. Those sites are uniquely equipped to handle that type of material with it being safer than going into landfills. It also ensures that the product is not leaking into the ground.”

The second material that Jennings’ group is focused on is the rechargeable batteries. He says the batteries cause headaches for recycle handlers, landfills, and other waste streams because of their ability to cause fires. The final material is the plastic outer shell of e-cigarettes. The plastics cannot go in with other plastic recycling due to their plastic number and their contact with nicotine.

Jennings hopes that by raising awareness about these products that retailers and vape shops will begin to develop a waste recycling program to be environmentally conscious about the products they sell. Jennings says that the residual waste is less than that of traditional cigarettes because of the large accumulation over time of cigarette butts and waste, but the technology is new and they are still looking at the long-term impact that vape pens and e-cigarettes will have on the environment.