Are E-cigarettes Better for the Environment?

Celebrities like Johnny Depp and Katherine Heigl have claimed it helped them quit smoking. Maybe you’ve seen people in non-smoking bars exhaling what seems like smoke from one. It often looks like a cigarette, even tastes like it, but it’s not. It’s an electronic cigarette, an alternative to cigarette smoking that supposedly has fewer chemicals and is becoming increasingly popular.

“Some companies have various flavors,” said Tad Fox, an electronic cigarette smoker. “If they aren’t specifically tobacco flavored, they remind me of smoking from a hookah, only with a little different sting on the back of your throat. Tobacco flavors can be pretty similar to cigarettes.”

Image courtesy of Lindsay Fox

Image courtesy of Lindsay Fox

The debate rages as to the safety of electronic cigarettes, or e-cigarettes, but are these little devices better for the environment?

The improper disposal of cigarette filters is a huge problem, contributing to the U.S.’s annual $11.5 billion cost to clean up litter.

Despite the fact that smoking has decreased in the U.S. by 28 percent in the past decade, cigarette butts remain the most littered item, and they account for 38 percent of litter worldwide.

During the International Coastal Cleanup last year, more than 2 million cigarette butts were collected, accounting for 21 percent of the 7.4 million pounds of debris that were collected.

To make matters worse, 95 percent of cigarette filters are made cellulose acetate, a kind of plastic that doesn’t degrade easily. In fact, it takes about 12 years for one to break down.

While e-cigarettes certainly cut down on cigarette butt pollution, there is still the matter of proper disposal.

E-cigarettes generally have a cartridge that contains flavors and nicotine in liquid form, a heating element and a battery that supplies power to heat the liquid. Many models allow the battery to recharge by plugging it into an outlet.

Fox said that time of use depends a lot on the brand. “Batteries can vary in life, and if you get one that has a separate atomizer to the cartridge, you’ll have to replace that part. But the best answer is when you no longer have the need to smoke.”

Once the e-cigarette device becomes obsolete, it shouldn’t be tossed in the trash.

“E-waste” is usually defined as anything that plugs into a wall or uses batteries. E-cigarettes can do both.

While the act of recycling this kind of e-waste shouldn’t be a problem, it might be hard to find a recycler that will accept electronic cigarettes, as many of them specialize in more universal waste, like televisions and computers.

Portions of the device, such as the battery, might be accepted by your local household hazardous waste collection facility, but check with the facility first.

Nearly all electronic cigarette companies are tight-lipped about the number of units they’ve sold, but there’s no denying that they are catching on among recovering smokers, especially when one cartridge equates to a pack of cigarettes and a pack of five cartridges can range between $6 and $10.

Just last week, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration lost an appeal that would have allowed the regulation of e-cigarettes as drugs or drug devices. Currently, the administration can oversee marketing as tobacco products, but cannot restrict their sale, meaning these gadgets may become more prevalent.

Despite whether they really help people quit smoking or they are healthier than regular cigarettes, electronic cigarettes can cut down on pollution as long as they are disposed of properly.

Related articles

N.Y. May Create Cigarette Butt Recycling Program
Scientists Use Cigarette Butts to Block Corrosion
Could Cigarette Butts Lower Your Home Energy Use?

Feature image courtesy of Ecig Click

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  1. I think this article totally misses the mark. As with most electronics that are replacing non-electronics, you really have to consider the environmental cost of producing it to begin with. Just because it can (possibly) be recycled and cause less waste as an end-product does not necessarily mean that it creates less waste in its overall life cycle.

  2. I disagree with you Lauren. Sure, there are manufacturing costs – but what sort of costs are associated with producing “real” cigarettes? Currently it’s much greater and we are throwing those cigarettes away each time we “smoke” them. I think you overlooked that, big time!

  3. The problem of disposing of smaller batteries should have been fixed years ago.
    Just to cut down on the amount I have to toss, I use rechargeable batteries.
    Each year there is an increase of battery operated toys and other devices and people don’t pause to think about buying them so laying a guilt trip on buyers of e-cigarettes is really idiotic.

  4. Cigarettes kill 400,000 every year. Total number who have died from using E-cigarettes: Zero for the benefit of the hard of hearing: ZERO!!! However, lets argue whether or not E-cigarettes are a “GREEN” product.

  5. There is not a one-to-one correspondence between cartridges and cigarette filters regarding waste and disposal. Each ml of liquid can replace about a pack of cigarettes. So depending on cartridge size, one cartridge could substitute for 10 to 20 cigarettes. Further reducing the disposal problem is the fact that cartridges can be refilled instead of replaced. I have been using the same cartridge for months. I don’t understand how my disposing of a dried out cartridge in the trash is any more harmful to the environment than emptying multiple full ashtrays into the trash, which is what I used to do. I have not done so during the past 20 months because I completely stopped smoking by switching to e-cigarettes. This, after 45 years of smoking, trying multiple times to quit using a wide variety of methods ranging from hypnosis to Zyban.

  6. This article caught my attention because I am an environmentally conscience e-cig user. Frankly, I wish this article was constructed & written better. It is extremely choppy, light on content, lacks focus, and does not answer the title question “Are E-cigarettes Better for the Environment?”

    For example, “95 percent of cigarette filters are made cellulose acetate” do you mean standard cigarettes AND the e-cig cartridges (carts) that hold the liquid? Speaking of the carts, are there any disposable recommendations? I had to read through twice to determine that no distinction or recommendation is made.

    I already know to recycle batteries. To add depth, I suggest stronger mention of other options, such as USB and car charger plugs. These items allow the user e-smoke without the battery, therefore reducing portable/rechargeable battery usage.

    Speaking of rechargeable batteries, some industry facts about their effectiveness in reducing e-waste would add credibility.

    Sorry if this review seems harsh and hope is does not covey as being mean-spirited. But I was truly disappointed & sometimes, I think I was an English teacher in a past life.

  7. I bought some of these for my husband a couple of years ago. Unfortunately, he didn’t take it all the way apart before trying to smoke it. He said it tasted so bad, he didn’t want it anymore! Aside from being hurt, I’d spent nearly $120 on it!

  8. This WAS an annoying article really… I just started using e-cigarettes a week ago (after 30 years of smoking, 2 packs a day for the past 15 years actually). E-cigs have COMPLETELY eliminated my smoking habit instantly, and I far PREFER the ecig over the regular ones. As far as “green” goes… I think this talk of batteries is completly missing the fact that almost every e-cig on the market uses rechargable batteries and last for 3 months to a year at least. Also, most people are REFILLING their cartridges and using 1 cartridge maybe every WEEK at most. They are about the size of 1 cigarette butt. During that same week I would have disposed of 280 cigarette butts, 14 empty packages of cigarettes wrapped in celophane and 1.4 cardboard carton wrappers. This is at least 1 cubic foot of waste compared to LESS than 1 cubic inch from my e-cig. So, lets talk about manufacturing, shipping (gas and pollution bot delivering the goods to retail, and hauling off the waste) and I don’t see how you can even consider not being able to conclude that ecigs are more green than regular cigarettes, even bofore you need to also consider that (by some estimates, e-cigs have a 70% success rate… which I would very much believe if you are a smoker and have tried these for at least a week with some good quality e-liquid). So, for every person that QUITS, you can multiply that savings on the WASTE produced by however many years they manage to stay off cigarettes!

    This is a “no brainer” if you ask me…

  9. Electronic cigarette are better for the environment but those are not a quit smoking method. E-cigarette is just a good replacement for the normal cigars and the advantage is that can be used everywhere !

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