Tons of plastics and batteries from Britain’s 2m vapers ending up as damaging landfill
The craze for electronic cigarettes – known as vaping – produces just as much dangerous landfill waste as the tobacco products it replaces.
That’s the opinion of a national waste management company which has found a steep rise in vaping-related products being sent to landfill and being buried in the ground.
While waste from cigarettes still makes up the vast majority of smoking refuse, with hundreds of millions of butts and their pollutants being discarded every year, the steep rise of vaping as a so-called “cleaner” alternative is causing concern, the Business Waste company says.
“The jury is still very much out on the safety of vaping as an alternative to smoking,” says BusinessWaste.co.uk spokesperson Mark Hall, “But as far as the waste handling industry goes, it’s another challenge on top of the many challenges we already face.”
• According to YouGov statistics, there are 2.1 million E-cigarette users in the UK, who are either regular users, or are using the devices to help give up smoking tobacco.
• The use of E-cigarettes as a means to give up smoking has now overtaken other methods such as nicotine patches. This means that waste from E-smoking has increased steadily in the last two years, with a majority of the refuse being sent to landfill.
• The market for E-cigarettes was worth £90 million in 2014. While this figure is growing rapidly with hundreds of shops and websites catering for customers’ needs, the UK tobacco market is still worth billions, though declining slowly. There’s little guidance on disposing of electronic cigarette waste ethically.
Hall says that although amounts of electronic cigarette waste is still relatively small in relation to the tons of cigarette waste handled every day by the waste industry, but it’s of a very different type that can be just as damaging to the environment.
“Traditional cigarette ends when dumped in landfill release poisons into the ground that can harm water tables and damage plants and animals,” he explains. “E-cigarette refuse is mainly plastics and batteries that may take centuries to break down, and heaven knows what poisons they might contain.”
He also says that chemicals used in e-cigarettes are also ending up in landfill, and they could prove just as damaging as tobacco waste.
“With careful disposal, many cigarette butts can be diverted from landfill to energy recovery, where they can be burned and contribute to electricity generation. However, users don’t know how to recycle their vaping waste, so it’s slipping through the net and ending up in general waste that’s destined for landfill, and that’s something we’re keen to avoid” Hall says.
BusinessWaste.co.uk says that spent batteries from small electrical appliances is one of the greatest challenges facing the waste industry, and the tons of waste from vaping just adds to the problem.
“While most local authorities have schemes to recycle old batteries, most people find it more convenient just to fling them in the bin,” says Hall. “It’s the same for E-cig batteries, and it’s fair to say smokers do not have the greatest of reputation when it comes to disposing of their waste, and so it goes with Britain’s millions of vapers. E-cig waste is going to landfill by the ton.”
BusinessWaste.co.uk is also finding whole vaping devices in landfill as people try E-cigarettes once and decide it’s not for them.
“There are literally thousands of nearly-new E-cigs being thrown out at the moment,” says Hall, “And that’s yet another problem for the waste industry which has to try to recycle them as appropriate.”
While the health benefits of vaping are very much up for discussion, the same cannot be said for the risks in dealing with E-cigarette waste. As more people switch their smoking habits away from tobacco to electronic devices, there needs to be stronger guidance on dealing with the very different waste that vaping produces.
“Switching from cigarettes to e-cigs switches one set of poisons for another, more subtle kind. E-smokers have to be just as careful with their vaping waste as with their cigarette butts and old lighters,” says Hall.
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