Vape devices decorate top of Clinton Petrino's repurposed spool

Instead of tossing out its imperfect items, a company that makes vape devices submitted its unusable stock to organizers of an innovative upcycling project. The pen-shaped hardware provided the foundation for an art exhibit. The decision energized a network of people and organizations eager to reduce waste in the trendy vaping industry.

Single-use vapes are often regarded as disposable. However, a responsible approach for vape discards is not available in most places. Recycling programs are not equipped to process them. And sometimes vape waste is not even suitable for the regular trash.

Art From Vapes

Artist Yennie Zhou uses vaping equipment for sculpture.
Artist Yennie Zhou formed sculpture with upcycled vaping equipment. Photo: UpcyclePop

About a dozen artists participated in the project, which required that each piece incorporate vaping devices. The supply of roughly 45,000 unused manufacturing rejects came from Jupiter Research, which designs and manufactures vaping hardware.

The exhibit, “Carts for the Arts,” is at UpcyclePop in Sacramento during February. And it’s also available to enjoy online.

Martha Jones designed a flapper dress using upcycled vapes
Martha Jones designed a flapper dress using upcycled vapes. Photo: UpcyclePop

The exhibit features 20 pieces, including:

  • Flapper dress featuring fringed layers formed with about 1,000 vapes from Martha Jones, whose quote about recycling in the online exhibit includes: “Use what’s here. Lessen the footprint.”
  • 10-foot tree with a richly-textured trunk formed with 4,000 single-use vape pens and LED lights from Yennie Zhou
  • Stella the Sea Turtle from artist Brittany Estep
  • Battery-operated Bluetooth speaker with music-activated colored lights from JP Odbert
  • Chandelier featuring 90 vape cartridges from Clinton Petrino

“The purpose of the exhibit was to draw awareness to the large waste issue created by the cannabis industry and why we can and should act now to change course,” according to Shira Lane, founder and CEO of The Atrium, a nonprofit organization promoting innovation for sustainability.

Artist Seth Dougherty stacked vape devices to form a sculptural lamp.
Artist Seth Dougherty stacked vape devices to form a sculptural lamp. Photo: UpcyclePop

Vape Equipment Waste

Issues interfering with responsible disposal of vapes include:

  • The devices are made of mixed materials that are not easily separated for recycling.
  • Laws and requirements regarding disposal of residue of regulated substances.
  • Lithium-ion batteries in the devices have the potential to explode if not handled properly.

“Vape pens, labeled as disposable, are not disposable at all. Legally [depending on material and residue], they can’t be thrown in the trash or recycled,” Lane said.

A spokeswoman from Waste Management, which provides trash and recycling services for municipalities, said vaping equipment features different materials, including hazardous materials, unsuitable for regular waste or recycling. With rules varying in different regions, she recommends asking your local government for advice on proper handling.

A representative of the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency agreed. “Households should check with their local waste management facility on how to dispose of batteries and other e-cigarette components, as they may be considered household hazardous waste.”

Network of Advocates

“We’ve created a community of artists and activists dedicated to the pursuit of a zero-waste future for the cannabis industry,” Lane said.

“Through the art, the exhibit brought together in the form of a panel the siloed stakeholders within industries to talk, educate each other, and create actionable solutions, because disposable vape pens and cartridges are flooding the market, and with them an enormous amount of post-consumer waste.”

Jupiter Research is part of that effort. The company is working on different designs, such as products that are easier to disassemble so different parts are able to be diverted for recycling or responsibly discarded, according to Kaila Strong, director of marketing.

Another effort is to remove the word “disposable” from the packaging. “If we simply remove the word ‘disposable’ from the packages, and use the word single-use, throwing them away may not seem so nonchalant, making progress towards a kinder and more sustainable future for all of us,” Lane said.

Feature image courtesy of Carts for the Arts

By Patti Roth

Patti began her writing career as a staff writer for the South Florida Sun Sentinel. Still based in Florida, Patti serves as editor for Fort Lauderdale on the Cheap. She regularly writes about environmental, home improvement, education, recycling, art, architecture, wildlife, travel and pet topics.