Disposable Vapes: Dangerous, Damaging, and just Dumb

A look at disposable vape bans around country and world, and the impact of all that waste, part of our “Junked by Design” series

Staff | TPIN
A dismantled disposable vape. Photo by TPIN Staff.

Litter has received a futuristic update. We used to see cigarette butts, wrappers, and coffee cups on our sidewalks. Now, you also find discarded electronic vaping devices. Also known as e-cigarettes (when they contain nicotine) or “vapes,” these small, battery-powered devices heat a liquid for the user to inhale. 

While some vapes allow users to replace empty liquid cartridges and reuse the device, others make reuse impossible. We have enough waste problems (including less-common-but-still-present cigarette butts) even without electronics full of environmental hazards. Nevertheless, used disposable vapes have become a common sight.

Disposable vapes discarded on a sidewalk. Photo by Peter van Niuewehuizen.

Vapes are gaining in popularity, especially disposable vapes. In June of 2023, the CDC reported that monthly e-cigarette sales increased by 46.6% between January of 2020 and December of 2022, with disposable vapes taking up an increasing share. U.S. PIRG Education Fund’s 2023 report found that Americans throw out 4.5 disposable vapes every second. If you lined up all of the disposable vapes tossed each year, it would stretch over 7,000 miles.

TPIN Staff | TPIN
Graphic by TPIN Staff. “Disposable vape” image by Jacek Halicki, CC-BY-4.0

Here are four reasons why disposable vapes are terrible for the planet:

1. Wasted resources and environmental destruction

Disposable vapes have the same kind of batteries that are found in our phones. They contain copper wire and lithium, two extremely valuable materials that require intensive and environmentally destructive mining operations to extract.

2. No way to recycle disposable vapes

In the United States, there is currently no standard way to recycle these products, meaning when people discard those precious materials, they are lost and wasted.

3. Mining and manufacturing electronics harms the climate

As bad as the disposability of vapes is, it isn’t this product’s most damaging impact to the environment. As with all electronics, mining for the necessary rare minerals and manufacturing the device create immense amounts of carbon pollution.

4. Vape waste is toxic waste

The batteries found in disposable vapes can leach toxic chemicals into the waste stream when they degrade. When disposed of improperly, they can even cause fires. 

 

It is absurd to produce any electronic device—with all of its associated circuitry, resource use, environmental hazards and carbon dioxide emissions—just to toss it once it runs out of juice. Disposable electronics should not exist.

Appropriately, government officials in several countries are taking action to cut down vape usage and waste. On Jan. 29, UK Prime Minister Rishi Sunak announced that his government will ban disposable vapes. Below, you can see the different disposable vape bans and laws put forward by other countries.

Disposable vape bans across the world

Photo by TPIN Staff | TPIN

Photo by TPIN Staff | TPIN

Photo by TPIN Staff | TPIN

Photo by TPIN Staff | TPIN

Photo by TPIN Staff | TPIN

Photo by TPIN Staff | TPIN

Photo by TPIN Staff | TPIN

Photo by TPIN Staff | TPIN

Photo by TPIN Staff | TPIN

"Chicago Wards Blank" map by Kingofthedead, CC BY SA 4.0

Photo by TPIN Staff | TPIN

1of 10

Technically, disposable vapes are not legal in the United States: The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) has not authorized any for consumption. However, lack of FDA approval has not stopped vape stores and gas stations across the country from selling them. 

Last July, the FDA sent warning letters to distributors selling popular brands including Elf Bar and Esco Bar for distributing illegal products, and later gave permission to seize and detain unauthorized disposable vapes. In December, the agency seized 1.4 million units of illegal e-cigarettes with a value of $18 million. They also sent warnings to 189 retailers selling the products. 

However, disposable vapes remain widely available. Manufacturers attempt to exploit loopholes in existing laws, or simply rename their companies to avoid targeted bans. 

The FDA must enforce its own rules and take these products off the shelves for good. Companies and franchises including 7-Eleven, Chevron and others should stop selling them at their stores. 

Every day that we don’t take stronger action against disposable vapes, is another day their used husks pile up. 

Agree? Tell 7-Eleven, Chevron and more companies: stop selling disposable vapes and polluting the environment with needless electronic waste.

Sources for "Disposable vape bans across the world" slideshow

Topics
Authors

Meghan Smith

Designed to Last Campaign, Associate, PIRG

Meghan works on the Designed to Last campaign for the PIRG New Economy team. Meghan is from Maine and currently lives in Boston. She likes playing the guitar, singing, running and enjoying the outdoors whenever she can.

Find Out More
staff | TPIN

This Earth Day, put our planet over plastic

We are working to move our country beyond plastic — and we need your help. Will you make a gift in honor of Earth Day to help us keep making progress?

Donate