Recycling Mystery: E-Cigarettes

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The third Thursday of November marks the American Cancer Society’s Great American Smokeout, a campaign that encourages smokers to make that the day they quit smoking. To support the occasion, Earth911 is shedding some light on a recycling mystery: Are e-cigarettes, which are getting more popular by the day, recyclable? Take a deep breath and read on to find out. 

As one of the more controversial products on the market, electronic cigarettes — or e-cigarettes — have gained plenty of media attention in the areas of health and safety. Unlike conventional cigarettes, which generate smoke, the battery-powered e-cigarettes emit vapors made from nicotine-laced liquids, and the inhalation (and subsequent exhalation) is known as “vaping” rather than “smoking.”

Supporters of e-cigarettes argue that their use could help counteract the problem America faces with disposal of used cigarette filters. Cigarette butts remain the most-tossed piece of trash in the world, accounting for about 38 percent of litter worldwide. Since most cigarette filters are made from cellulose acetate, a type of plastic that takes about 12 years to break down, extinguished cigarette butts remain a problem long after they’ve been tossed out the window or on the sidewalk.

However, most manufacturers have sidestepped what should happen to the e-cigarette once it hits the end of its life cycle. Many of the battery-powered electronic cigarettes can be recharged by plugging them into an outlet, but newer and less expensive disposable e-cigarettes allow consumers to try them without investing in the more expensive electronic kits. The disposable models last for about the same amount of time as a pack and a half of conventional cigarettes, and have a one-piece construction so there’s no recharging. The question is: Where will the empty disposable e-cigarettes end up?

Because they’re battery-powered, they should not simply be thrown in the trash can, yet very little, if any, education is being done to advise users on proper disposal of them. However, one e-cigarette manufacturer, Green Smoke, launched an e-cigarette cartridge recycling program in May.

Can They Be Recycled?

To understand how to recycle an e-cigarette, users have to understand how it works. The typical e-cigarette has three parts: the battery, the atomizer and the cartridge. The battery is made of lithium ion and is located where tobacco is placed in a traditional cigarette. At the other end is the cartridge, which often looks like the filter of a cigarette. In between the two is an atomizer, which holds the liquid nicotine solution.

Once the liquid nicotine solution is used up, the cartridge is usually disposed of. However, without proper disposal, it can pose a threat, particularly to animals or children, to whom the contents could be toxic.

According to Dr. Ranee Kaur Banerjee of BrightHub, the proper disposal of e-cigarette cartridges and their contents requires the following steps:

  1. Remove the filler material from the cartridge
  2. Wash it thoroughly in running water until all nicotine residue is gone
  3. Wrap the filler in a scrap of biodegradable material
  4. Wash the plastic cartridge under running water
  5. Plug it with the original plug
  6. Dispose of it as you would any other plastic waste

For disposing of batteries, manufacturers say the battery should be fully discharged and cooled, then submerged into a container of cold saltwater and covered securely with a lid. The battery should be left in the saltwater for two weeks, then wrapped in newspaper or paper towels and placed in the trash.

Since the batteries and their chargers qualify as electronic waste, users can also check with their city regarding guidelines for electronic waste disposal, or check with Best Buy, which has electronic waste recycling at many of its stores.

Feature image courtesy of: Ecig Click

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