December 11, 2023

By Matthew Perrone | Related Press

WASHINGTON — With the rising reputation of disposable e-cigarettes, communities throughout the U.S. are confronting a brand new vaping downside: the best way to safely do away with tens of millions of small, battery-powered gadgets which are thought-about hazardous waste.

For years, the controversy surrounding vaping largely centered on its dangers for highschool and center college college students enticed by flavors like gummy bear, lemonade and watermelon.

However the current shift towards e-cigarettes that may’t be refilled has created a brand new environmental dilemma. The gadgets, which include nicotine, lithium and different metals, can’t be reused or recycled. Underneath federal environmental legislation, additionally they aren’t presupposed to go within the trash.

U.S. teenagers and adults are shopping for roughly 12 million disposable vapes monthly. With little federal steering, native officers are discovering their very own methods to eliminate e-cigarettes collected from faculties, schools, vape outlets and different websites.

“We’re in a very bizarre regulatory place the place there isn’t any authorized place to place these and but we all know, yearly, tens of tens of millions of disposables are thrown within the trash,” stated Yogi Hale Hendlin, a well being and environmental researcher on the College of California, San Francisco.

In late August, sanitation staff in Monroe County, New York, packed greater than 5,500 brightly coloured e-cigarettes into 55-gallon metal drums for transport. Their vacation spot? A large, industrial waste incinerator in northern Arkansas, the place they might be melted down.

Sending 350 kilos of vapes throughout the nation to be burned into ash could not sound environmentally pleasant. However native officers say it’s the one method to preserve the nicotine-filled gadgets out of sewers, waterways and landfills, the place their lithium batteries can catch fireplace.

“These are very insidious gadgets,” stated Michael Garland, who directs the county’s environmental providers. “They’re a hearth danger and so they’re definitely an environmental contaminant if not managed correctly.”

Elsewhere, the disposal course of has develop into each expensive and sophisticated. In New York Metropolis, for instance, officers are seizing a whole bunch of hundreds of banned vapes from native shops and spending about 85 cents every for disposal.


Vaping critics say the trade has skirted duty for the environmental affect of its merchandise, whereas federal regulators have didn’t pressure adjustments that would make vaping parts simpler to recycle or much less wasteful.

Among the many potential adjustments: requirements requiring that e-cigarettes be reusable or forcing producers to fund assortment and recycling packages. New York, California and several other different states have so-called prolonged product duty legal guidelines for computer systems and different electronics. However these legal guidelines don’t cowl vaping merchandise and there are not any comparable federal necessities for any trade.

Environmental Safety Company guidelines for hazardous waste don’t apply to households, which means it’s authorized for somebody to throw e-cigarettes within the rubbish at dwelling. However most companies, faculties and authorities amenities are topic to EPA requirements in how they deal with dangerous chemical compounds like nicotine, which the EPA considers an “acute hazardous waste,” as a result of it may be toxic at excessive ranges.

Within the U.S., the push to handle disposable e-cigarettes has mainly come from faculties, which may face stricter regulation in the event that they generate quite a lot of kilos of hazardous waste monthly. Monroe County faculties pay $60 to dispose of every one-gallon container of vapes. Greater than two thirds of the e-cigarettes collected by the county come from faculties.

“Our faculties had been very relieved as a result of they’d confiscated a lot of this materials,” Garland stated. “For those who consider all of the excessive faculties throughout the nation, they’re in a really troublesome place proper now.”

Lithium in e-cigarette batteries is similar extremely sought metallic used to energy electrical automobiles and cellphones. However the portions utilized in vaping gadgets are too small to warrant salvage. And almost all disposable e-cigarette batteries are soldered into the system, making it impractical to separate them for recycling.

Disposable e-cigarettes at the moment account for about 53% of the multi-billion U.S. vaping market, in accordance with U.S. authorities figures, greater than doubling since 2020.

Their rise is a examine in unintended penalties.

In early 2020, the Meals and Drug Administration banned almost all flavors from reusable e-cigarettes like Juul, the cartridge-based system blamed for sparking a nationwide surge in underage vaping. However the coverage didn’t apply to disposables, opening the door to hundreds of latest styles of fruit and candy-flavored vapes, nearly all manufactured in China.

In current months the FDA has begun making an attempt to dam imports of a number of main disposable manufacturers, together with Elf Bar and Esco Bar. Regulators contemplate all of them unlawful, however they’ve been unable to cease their entry to the U.S. and the gadgets are actually ubiquitous in comfort shops, fuel stations and different outlets.

FDA’s tobacco chief, Brian King, stated in an announcement that his company “will proceed to fastidiously contemplate the potential environmental impacts” of vaping merchandise.


In 2020, New York Metropolis outlawed the overwhelming majority of e-cigarette varieties, banning flavors that may enchantment to kids.

Metropolis workers conduct hundreds of inspections yearly, and final yr issued greater than 2,400 citations to nook shops and bodegas promoting unlawful flavored merchandise. Including to the problem are THC vapes offered at a whole bunch of unlicensed marijuana outlets, a separate however associated downside that has mushroomed since New York’s legalization of leisure pot.

Since final November, officers have seized greater than 449,000 vape models, in accordance with metropolis figures. New York Metropolis is spending about $1,400 to destroy every container of 1,200 confiscated vapes, however many extra stay in metropolis storage lockers.

“I don’t assume anybody ever thought-about the quantity of those in our group,” stated New York Sheriff Anthony Miranda, who leads a job pressure on the problem. “There’s an incredible quantity of assets going into this effort.”

A current lawsuit in opposition to 4 giant vaping distributors goals to recoup among the metropolis’s prices.

For now, New Yorkers who vape can carry their used e-cigarettes to city-sponsored waste-collection occasions.

Finally these vapes meet a well-known destiny: They’re shipped to Gum Springs, Arkansas, to be incinerated by Veolia, a global waste administration agency. The corporate has incinerated greater than 1.6 million kilos of vaping waste lately, largely unsold stock or discontinued merchandise.

Veolia executives say burning e-cigarettes’ lithium batteries can harm their incinerators.

“Ideally we don’t wish to incinerate them as a result of it needs to be achieved very, very slowly. But when must, we are going to,” stated Bob Cappadona, who leads the corporate’s environmental providers division.

Veolia additionally handles e-cigarettes from Boulder County, Colorado, one of many solely U.S. jurisdictions that actively tries to recycle e-cigarette batteries and parts.

Traditionally, Boulder has had one of many highest teen vaping charges within the nation, peaking at almost 33% in 2017.

“It was like somebody flicked the change. All of the sudden e-cigarettes had been in all places,” stated Daniel Ryan, principal of Centaurus Excessive College.

Starting in 2019, county officers started distributing bins to colleges for confiscated or discarded e-cigarettes. Final yr, they collected 3,500.

County staffers type the gadgets by sort, separating these with detachable batteries for recycling. Disposables are packed and shipped to Veolia’s incinerator. Shelly Fuller, who directs this system, says managing vape waste has gotten extra expensive and labor intensive with the shift to disposables.

“I type of miss the times after we had Juuls and I may take every battery out and recycle them very simply,” Fuller stated. “Nobody has time to dismantle a thousand Esco Bars.”

AP video journalist Joseph Frederick contributed to this story from New York