If we're going to be using lithium at a rate of several million tons a year, we need to be thinking about recycling it rather than continually mining it, because lithium is not an infinite resource.
Plus, the manufacturing processes of lithium present significant environmental and health hazards in and of themselves. Mining the various metals needed for Li batteries requires vast resources.
It takes 500,000 gallons of water to mine one tonne of lithium. In Chile's Atacama Salt Flats, lithium mining has been linked to severe adverse impacts such as declining vegetation,
hotter daytime temperatures, and increasing drought conditions in national reserve areas.
So, it’s incumbent on all of us to ensure as much of it can be recycled and reused as possible.
Depending on the recycling process employed, it is possible to recover up to 80% of the lithium contained in end-of-life batteries.
Yet data from Company shows that the amount of lithium that currently comes from recycling is appallingly low, and is only predicted to reach 6% of the primary supply by 2040.
This is a serious concern!
Are we recycling our batteries in the USA?
A survey conducted by Business Waste regarding overall battery disposal methods shows that 40% of Brits have never recycled their batteries, with many saying that it was because it was too much hassle.
Shockingly, a third of people admitted to throwing batteries into the bin, and 75% of them didn’t know about the environmental damage this could be causing.
A quarter of people surveyed didn’t know batteries could be recycled at all.
And these statistics show a similar trend when consumers of single use vapes are specifically asked about their disposal methods.
Just over half of users reported throwing their vapes in the household trash when they run out, rather than putting them in a waste electricals’ recycling bin; however,
bear in mind that, according to a study from March 2021, 49.1% of people don’t actually know how to properly dispose of them.
How do disposable e-cigarettes impact the environment?
As well as the environmental impact of mining the materials required to create batteries in the first place, the ones that end their life in rubbish bins are taken to landfill sites.
When batteries begin to rot away in landfill, harmful chemicals including lead, cadmium, zinc, mercury, and - of course - lithium can leak into the ground, which causes soil and water pollution.
When these chemicals contaminate the soil and water, then animals, humans, and the environment are at risk of harm.
Horrifically, a significant proportion of this electronic waste is sent from the west to developing countries across Africa and Asia.
This allows ‘rich countries’ to be seen to meet their waste management targets, while creating hazardous health and ecological conditions in the recipient country.
How should disposables be disposed of?
Every time you purchase a disposable vape, you’ll notice that the packaging shows a crossed-out wheelie bin.
This symbol on a vape kit (or any electrical device for that matter) means you MUST NOT throw the product in the general rubbish bin.
Whichever option is available to you, the end result should be the same. Your collected vapes will be taken to a dedicated recycling centre.
Here, the built-in batteries are removed from casings, and the rest of the device is broken down by machine and by hand.
The fragments are sorted into different materials such as metals and plastics, and then cleaned. Material that can be collected is sent to specialists – plastics go for further processing and metals go to smelters,
for example. All salvaged materials will be used to make something new.
We aim to educate, and lobby, primary stakeholders such as policy makers, parliamentarians, regulators, the public health community, and the 7m smokers across the USA,
about the worrying effects of the disposables’ market on the health of our planet, and how we can mitigate the impact. A key focus right now is campaigning for improvements to accessibility for electrical recycling.
Secondly, we are working with the manufacturers of disposables, as well as key supply chain partners, to improve on the clarity around how these devices should be disposed of. Ideally,
we’d also like them to provide a convenient method whereby disposables can be sent back to a central location for processing and repurposing.
Finally, we also offer a service where we properly and safely recycle single use vape bars on behalf of our customers.