top of page

How unsustainable are single-use vapes and disposable e-cigarettes?

Updated: Jan 3

In today's blog post, we will be taking a high-level look at the environmental impacts of single-use vapes and disposable e-cigarettes. We will also be looking briefly at the best practices for consumers disposing of these.

A short overview of the environmental impacts and the planned bans

What environmental problems are created through single-use vapes and disposable e-cigarettes?

Single-use vapes and disposable e-cigarettes cannot be reused or recharged. They “contain a finite amount of e-liquid" and once that runs out, the devices “are often discarded like cigarette butts”. Notably, “[e]ven reusable models […] often employ disposable e-liquid cartridges”. Vapes and e-cigarettes should be disposed at household recycling centers or the shops where they were purchased. Yet, it is estimated that “more than half […] are thrown directly in the bin”. According to Material Focus, “[u]p to 1.3 million single-use vapes are thrown away each week” in the UK alone. In the landfill or gutter, “hot, humid, and rainy weather [may erode] their internal and external components, leaking toxic metals and gases, such as lithium, lead, mercury, and bromine”.

What minerals are disposed of when vapes and e-cigarettes are discarded?

Vapes and e-cigarettes “contain valuable materials such as lithium batteries and copper, as well as plastic”. If recycled properly, these materials “could have a valuable second life” in renewable energy technologies. “Each device contains about 0.15g of lithium in its battery”. According to the Financial Times, “[m]ore than 90 tonnes of lithium were used in the production of the $5bn worth of single-use vapes sold globally last year”. This amounts “to enough lithium to [produce] more than 11,000 electric vehicle batteries”. The vapes sold “also contained roughly 1,160 tonnes of copper, [which is] enough for 1.6mn home electric vehicle chargers”.

Are manufacturers taking adequate measures to ensure recycling?

Vape and e-cigarette manufacturers globally have been “slow to act” in addressing the environmental impacts of their products. They “have made little effort to enable the recycling of their products and prevent a precious resource from ending up in landfills”. In the EU and UK, “producers of electronics are legally obliged to fund the recycling of a tonnage equivalent to what they put on the market”. Yet, according to Material Focus, “only 16 of 150 vape producers and importers in the UK […] are registered to do so”.

Are bans on the sale of single-use vapes and e-cigarettes planned?

Article 5 of the EU’s directive of single-use plastics “bans the sale of single-use products such as cotton buds and drinking straws, but single-use e-cigarettes are not listed”. New EU regulations making replaceable or rechargeable batteries mandatory in all consumer products by 2027 (which are set to be passed later this year) should however apply to e-cigarettes. Flavored e-cigarettes and vapes have already been banned in several countries for health reasons and concerns over their use by minors. Now, “[p]olicymakers are [also] becoming increasingly agitated about the waste associated”. Amongst others, bans on the sale of single-use vapes are being discussed and planned in Germany, France, Estonia, Scotland, Ireland, the UK, Australia, and parts of the USA.

How should you dispose of your vapes and e-cigarettes?

Empty and broken vapes and e-cigarettes are e-waste. Before disposing of them, check to see if there is any way to refill or replace the e-liquid cartridges and/or the battery. If a device cannot be reused or it is broken beyond (reasonable) repair, return it to the retailer or bring it to a trusted and certified collection site. Do not throw the device in a regular waste bin or elsewhere, as it contains toxic components that need to be treated separately. Also, do not hold onto empty or broken devices for unnecessarily long, as giving these free for recycling can reduce carbon emissions and contribute to the circular economy.

Other best practices

We will be looking at further best practices (for different industries) in closer detail throughout future columns, so stay tuned!

⬇️ If you have additional tips on sustainable ways to recycle vapes and e-cigarettes, please feel free to share them with all of us in the comments section!


About the author

Christine Nikander is the founder of the environmental and social sustainability consultancy, Palsa & Pulk. She studied law at the universities of Columbia (New York), Edinburgh (Scotland), and Leiden (the Netherlands). Christine has been doing scholarly research into the legal and policy framework surrounding e-waste and conflict minerals since 2015.


Stay up to date

Our weekly column is published on Wednesdays at 12PM CET (The Hague) or 6AM EST (New York) on our website and on LinkedIn. Our monthly newsletter is published here on our blog, on Substack, and on LinkedIn.


Read more about e-vape and e-cigarette bans here:

Recent Posts

See All


bottom of page