A close-up of a hand holding a silver vape pen.

Recycling: How to dispose of vapes

In the bustling streets of the UK, a startling statistic looms large: eight single-use vapes meet their fate in the bin every second, culminating in a staggering 5 million discarded weekly.

When they don’t end up in bins — which lead to landfill sites —they find an afterlife as litter instead.

The NHS champions vaping as a viable means for adult smokers to break free from the shackles of cigarette smoking. Yet, amidst its endorsement, caution flags fly high, acknowledging vaping’s limitations and potential risks — particularly emphasising its unsuitability for children and teenagers.

The irony, however, lies in the deliberate marketing of single-use, brightly-coloured vapes sporting tempting flavours — an alluring siren call that resonates with the younger demographic.

While our understanding of vaping’s impact on the human body remains in its infancy, the ecological fallout of these pens paints a stark reality. As these devices weave into our environment, their footprint becomes increasingly conspicuous.

It’s time to smoke out the misinformation and delve into the world of vapes — understanding what they are and how to dispose of them responsibly.

What are vapes?

Vapes are also known as electronic cigarettes, vape pens, vape rigs, pods, and personal vaporisers.

Among users, disposable vapes are often termed “puff bars.”

These handheld devices heat a liquid — called e-liquid, e-juice, or vape juice — to generate an aerosol users inhale.

Comprising nicotine, flavourings, propylene glycol, vegetable glycerin or glycerol, and water, this concoction forms the crux of the vaping experience. It’s this blend that infuses the vape with its distinctive flavour and delivers nicotine to the user, mimicking the act of smoking.

Refillable vs disposable vapes

There are two vape types: refillable and disposable. Refillable vapes offer flexibility, allowing users to purchase liquid separately.

In contrast, disposable vapes are pre-loaded with a liquid cartridge, offering convenience but a  limited lifespan — once the liquid is depleted, the device is destined for disposal.

The health impact of vapes

Unravelling the health implications of vaping is complex. While our understanding remains limited, certain known risks loom large.

Vaping — acknowledged for its addictive nature — has been associated with exacerbating anxiety and depression symptoms alongside potential repercussions on sleep quality, lung health, and the onset of chronic bronchitis. In men, concerns about potential impacts on sexual function have also surfaced.

The full extent of vaping’s health impact remains an evolving story, with discoveries possibly yet to be unveiled.

The allure of vaping has cast a shadow over the younger members of our population, drawing in children and teenagers whose bodies are still in the crucial stages of development. This accessibility raises grave concerns about its impact on their growing organs and overall well-being.

Why should vapes be recycled?

Knowledge about how to dispose of vapes isn’t mainstream, but a crucial truth prevails — vapes are highly recyclable, carrying within them a trove of precious resources.

Delving into the anatomy of vape pens reveals a treasure chest of steel, aluminium, copper, and lithium — resources deemed among the most precious on our planet.

Recycling these devices becomes imperative, given their composition and the rate at which they are discarded.

Recycling centres have a meticulous deconstruction process for vapes. This intricate operation involves the careful separation of metals from plastics.

The lithium batteries — a vital component of these devices — undergo a careful extraction process to be recycled, reintroducing this valuable material back into the supply chain.

A staggering ten tonnes of lithium face disposal annually via discarded vape pens — an amount substantial enough to power approximately 5,000 electric vehicles. This underscores the latent potential within these seemingly disposable items.

However, the dark side of improper disposal comes to light with alarming clarity. In the UK alone, 700 fires ignited last year due to batteries lingering inside electronics that found their way into inappropriate disposal channels.

These fires wreaked havoc in recycling centres, bins, and lorries — accentuating the critical need for responsible vape disposal.

Navigating the maze of vape recycling necessitates a closer look at proper disposal methods for both disposable and reusable vapes.

How to recycle vapes and disposable vapes

As the fate of disposable vapes in the UK hovers on the brink of a potential ban, the reality remains — these devices will linger in households for years to come. It’s paramount to equip individuals with the necessary information on recycling options.

Despite the potential ban on single-use vapes, refillable devices remain steadfast. However, the alarming number of vapes finding their way into general waste or tossed onto the streets underscores the critical importance of accessible recycling avenues.

Let’s explore your options.

Your home waste collection

Explore your local council’s waste collection policies, as some areas collect electronic devices kerbside or offer disposal for a fee.

Never dispose of spent vapes in regular recycling or general waste bins — they require separate handling.

Your local recycling centre

Every local recycling centre is equipped to handle electronic waste, making them ideal drop-off points for spent vapes. Deposit them at the centre, and the facility will do the rest.

Recycling banks

Discover nearby “bring banks” designed for small household electronics. These locations serve as collection points for devices like vapes, ensuring proper processing and recycling. These banks are commonly found at supermarkets, in car parks, or at the roadside.

In-store at vape shops

Many vape stores offer collection boxes for old vapes — drop your retired devices in these designated boxes for recycling.

If you purchase vapes online, check if the retailer provides a virtual recycling service — some offer the convenience of mailing back old vapes using supplied postal bags.

Other options

If you’re unsure where to recycle vapes, you can quickly search and find your closest electronics recycling point on the Recycle Your Electricals website.

Remember, responsible disposal isn’t just about getting rid of these devices — it’s about ensuring they find their way into proper recycling channels, minimising their environmental impact.

How to recycle vape components

How to recycle vape batteries

Within vape devices lies a crucial component — lithium-based batteries. When these batteries meet their fate in a standard bin, a precious resource is condemned to languish in landfills, lost forever.

Unlocking the potential of recycling these lithium-based batteries holds immense promise. Recycling them contributes significantly to preserving this valuable resource. To put it into perspective, the lithium recovered from vape batteries could power nearly 5,000 electric cars — an impactful stride toward sustainable energy.

If possible, aim to recycle vape batteries separately by detaching them from your device. However, in cases where removal proves challenging, recycling the entire kit as e-waste remains a viable solution.

Most recycling facilities equipped for electronic waste management can process these devices, salvaging their valuable components.

How to recycle vape cartridges

To ensure efficient recycling of your vape cartridges, dismantle your kit. Extract the cartridge, pod, or tank and embark on a thorough cleaning process.

Glass-based cartridges can be placed in your household glass recycling bin — treat them like your standard glass bottles and jars.

However, when dealing with plastic cartridges, inspect the item for recycling symbols and numbers, which indicate the type of plastic used. Depending on this classification, the disposal method may vary.

Certain plastics will find their place in your household recycling bin, while others warrant a trip to your local recycling centre for proper processing.

Familiarise yourself with your area’s recycling guidelines to ensure these plastics reach the appropriate recycling channels.

Remember, careful separation and appropriate disposal of these cartridges are pivotal in transforming them into valuable recycled materials, contributing to a greener, more sustainable environment.


Published by

Lucy Ravenhall

Lucy is a long-standing editor of the Forge Recycling blog and loves writing about her environmental passions.

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