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Homenew yorkUS struggles to discard hazardous materials from e-cigarettes that cannot be trashed,...

US struggles to discard hazardous materials from e-cigarettes that cannot be trashed, reused, or recycled

With the growing popularity of disposable e-cigarettes, communities across the U.S. are confronting a new vaping problem: how to safely get rid of millions of small, battery-powered devices that are considered hazardous waste.

For years, the debate surrounding vaping largely centered on its risks for high school and middle school students enticed by flavors like gummy bear, lemonade and watermelon.

But the recent shift toward e-cigarettes that can’t be refilled has created a new environmental dilemma. The devices, which contain nicotine, lithium and other metals, cannot be reused or recycled. Under federal environmental law, they also aren’t supposed to go in the trash.

U.S. teens and adults are buying roughly 12 million disposable vapes per month. With little federal guidance, local officials are finding their own ways to dispose of e-cigarettes collected from schools, colleges, vape shops and other sites.

“Ideally we don’t want to incinerate them because it has to be done very, very slowly. But if have to, we will,” said Bob Cappadona, who leads the company’s environmental services division.

Veolia also handles e-cigarettes from Boulder County, Colorado, one of the only U.S. jurisdictions that actively tries to recycle e-cigarette batteries and components.

Historically, Boulder has had one of the highest teen vaping rates in the country, peaking at nearly 33% in 2017.

“It was like someone flicked the switch. Suddenly e-cigarettes were everywhere,” said Daniel Ryan, principal of Centaurus High School.

Beginning in 2019, county officials began distributing bins to schools for confiscated or discarded e-cigarettes. Last year, they collected 3,500.

County staffers sort the devices by type, separating those with removable batteries for recycling. Disposables are packed and shipped to Veolia’s incinerator. Shelly Fuller, who directs the program, says managing vape waste has gotten more costly and labor intensive with the shift to disposables.

“I kind of miss the days when we had Juuls and I could take each battery out and recycle them very easily,” Fuller said. “No one has time to dismantle a thousand Esco Bars.”


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