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Vaping may not be harming you, but it’s totally killing the planet

While we’re probably still a few decades away from having a true understanding of the health effects of vaping – the smoke you have when you’re not smoking – it’s becoming abundantly clear that e-cigs are doing the planet precisely zero favours.

Coming under a particularly bright spotlight at the moment is Juul, which is apparently just the coolest way to get nicotine into your system. Like, all the kids are doing it.

The thing that makes the Juul so popular is that it’s lightweight, compact and cheap, which all adds up to it being both difficult to disassemble and – unlike, say, an iPhone – not really worth much when it comes to recycling.

Perhaps most problematic is that it is powered by a lithium-ion polymer battery, which, according to the Australian Battery Recycling Initiative, “are classified as Dangerous Goods under the Australian Code for the Transport of Dangerous Goods by Road and Rail.”

However, it’s not exactly a broadly known fact that the battery in your vaping device is powered by a Dangerous Good.

As Jim Puckett – executive director of the Basel Action Network, a company that aims to protect people and the environment from e-waste – told Mashable, “Lithium-ion batteries will lose their capacity at some point. And when it dies, people will likely throw it in the trash, absent an aggressive program to prevent that.”

So what do Juul have to say on the matter? Their FAQs address the matter in a not-entirely-satisfactory fashion:

How do I dispose of a JUUL device?
We design our device to be reliable and strive to exceed our 1-year Limited Warranty period – this is not a disposable item like many other e-cigarettes. For disposal purposes, JUUL should be treated as any other consumer electronic device, such as a cell phone. We suggest following your city’s local recommendations for disposing of a lithium-polymer rechargeable battery.

On the one hand, that’s a bit of a cop-out, isn’t it? Put it back on “your city’s local recommendations” to get rid of the multi-faceted device and all of its hard-to-dispose-of pieces.

But, on the other hand, how many companies do provide a viable means by which to dispose of their product in an environmentally-friendly fashion? Sure, most Australian cities have easy means to recycle cans and bottles, but it’s not like the soft drink and alcohol companies funded these services so as to ensure the billions of vessels they sell each year are doing the right thing by Mother Earth.

Of course, when there’s a patch of garbage floating between Hawaii and California that The Ocean Cleanup says contains “1.8 trillion pieces of plastic” weighing in at an “estimated 80,000 tonnes”, we’re not exactly living in an age where ignorance and apathy toward responsible waste disposal can be excused.

As Mashable have suggested, perhaps Juul – which generated $224 million in sales last year – “could set a meaningful agenda about e-waste”.

About the author

Joe was Junior Vice-President at Compu-Global-Hyper-Mega-Net until it was bought out by Bill Gates. He now subedits for Conversant Media and considers it a step up.

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Comments (1)

    Enthusiastic about Product Stewardship

    Friday 11 May 2018

    I entirely disagree with this article.

    The aim of using any product today needs to be: refuse, repair, reduce, reuse, recycle.

    E-cigs/vapes address the 4 of these 5 necessary waste principles.
    Refuse: You are refusing a single-use product every time you use it. But you aren’t refusing an electronic product, even though it will last a year.
    Repair: some vapes sell spare parts. Each time you replace a burnt out coil, that’s repairing.
    Reduce: Again, reducing the use of a single use item. Only needing to replace coils and the juice varying on the person.
    Reuse: Well, vapes are reused constantly until they die. This can be from 3 days to a year (like Juul) depending on the type of battery inside. Still reusing it more than a cigarette.
    Recycle: Electronic-waste (e-waste) can be recycled and is valuable, if you dispose of it through your councils hard waste collection or dropping it off at your nearest transfer centre.

    Cigarettes address perhaps one or two:
    Refuse: If you want to quit using them cold turkey… Without buying a vape.
    Repair: Can’t repair a cigarette after it is smoked
    Reduce: You can reduce using cigarettes, if you want to. But you can also reduce using vapes.
    Reuse: If you butt out and then relight it later, I guess that counts (I’m not a smoker, so I don’t know if that actually works)
    Recycle: I’ve heard some inventive schemes about recycling cigarettes, turning them into seats (they still smell like cigarettes but at least they’ve been recycled!) and I truly hope they work. For that to happen though, they need to be disposed of correctly.

    What you seem to be calling for in this article is product stewardship (making the business responsible for the disposal of the product, like mobile phones, batteries and others, at least in Victoria) over e-waste.

    Here’s my two cents, perhaps you could do a similar article critical of the lack of cigarette product stewardship. Or another about product stewardship of all electronic products, not just vapes. Since you seem very passionate about products that have been declared a ‘dangerous goods’.

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