Disposable electronics, such as e-cigarettes and vape pens, have posed various health concerns for several years. These disposable products pose environmental issues because they cannot be recycled or thrown in the trash. Recycling is nearly impossible because of how they are manufactured, leaving few disposal methods available.
Vaping became a widespread phenomenon in the mid-2000s, but consumers have recently begun to depend upon the convenience of disposable vapes and e-cigarettes, which poses an environmental dilemma due to how the devices are manufactured.
Disposable vapes and e-cigarettes cannot be refilled, and like many other electronic devices, they are made with notoriously explosive lithium-ion batteries. The problem is nearly all disposable e-cigs and vapes are now made with batteries soldered into the device, making battery separation impractical for recycling. Additionally, under federal environmental law, these devices cannot be thrown in the trash.
In Monroe County, New York, sanitation workers packed more than 5,500 e-cigarettes into 55-gallon steel drums for incineration. However, disposition is becoming costly and complicated, with officials in New York seizing hundreds of thousands of banned vapes from local stores and spending more than $1 each for disposal.
Yogi Hale Hendlin, a health and environmental researcher at the University of California, recently stated, “We are in a really weird regulatory place where there is no legal place to put these, and yet we know, every year, tens of millions of disposables are thrown in the trash.”
Because Environmental Protection Agency rules for hazardous waste do not apply to households, it is technically legal for Americans to throw e-cigarettes in the trash at home. However, schools and government facilities are subject to EPA standards and can face stricter regulations and penalties for generating more than a few pounds of hazardous waste per month.
According to vaping critics, the industry has skirted responsibility for the environmental impact of these products, and federal regulators have failed to enforce the necessary changes to make vaping components more environmentally friendly. Possible changes include standards requiring e-cigarettes and vapes to be reusable or forcing manufacturers to fund collection and recycling programs.
According to U.S. government figures that have more than doubled since 2020, disposable e-cigarettes currently account for about 53 percent of the multi-billion U.S. vaping market and are expected to increase.