Vaping and the Environment

The tobacco industry has a major impact on the environment, ranging from cigarette butts as litter to the tune of approximately 1.7 billion tons per year to the 400,000 tons of tobacco grown on 10,000 tobacco farms with a total of 350,000 acres devoted to tobacco. Worldwide those cigarette butts account for 38% of all litter, and they are very toxic. Cigarette butts thrown into lakes have been shown to kill fish.

cigarette butts

Cigarettes produce second-hand smoke, which some claim accounts for over 50,000 premature deaths per year. estimates that smokers produce 84,878 tons of air pollution each year – half as much as all the cars in America produce. And that air pollution is full of toxins, carcinogens, carbon monoxide, tar, and burnt tobacco. That’s what smokers inhale, and it’s also in second-hand smoke.

540 million trees are cut down every year for rolling paper and packaging for the tobacco industry. Tobacco manufacturing produces roughly 25 million tons of solid waste per year and 230,000 tons of liquid waste.

Vaping Is Different

Vaping has a much smaller footprint on the environment. Exposure to second-hand vapor is inconsequential and shows no evidence of being a health risk.

Vapers don’t leave e-cigarette butts on the ground – there’s no such thing.

Almost no trees are used by the vaping industry outside of packaging and labels.

Vegetable glycerine and propylene glycol are generally considered safe and are found in foods.

Unless you buy single-use e-cigarettes, the environmental impact of vaping gear is minimal. With care, your hardware may last for years, and most of the materials used to make them are recyclable. Most e-juice comes in plastic bottles that can and should be recycled.

There are really only two hazardous materials to be concerned with: nicotine and batteries. Liquid nicotine is an irritant and is toxic at very high doses. Avoid getting it on your skin and keep your e-liquid bottles well out of the reach of children.

Rechargeable batteries can last for years, but once they reach their limit, be sure to recycle them responsibly. Do not throw them out in the trash. Your dead batteries need to reach facilities that can safely recycle them.

Don’t Panic!

In researching this article, I only came across one scary headline about vaping. It’s from the click-magnet known as Huffington Post and screams out E-cigarettes Put the Environment at Risk. Reading it will make your head spin, and its author didn’t have the sense to find out if his Blu e-cig could be recycled or was safe to throw in the garbage – which is what she chose to do.

Yes, disposable e-cigs are a blight, a waste of money and natural resources, and they should be recycled, not put in the trash. There are valuable metals in there, not to mention the battery.

This article does point out that the wicking used in e-cigarettes is similar to the filters used in tobacco cigarettes, but it doesn’t go any further and talk about what to do with the wick.

And here’s the most preposterous claim of all: “E-cigarettes tend to explode.” Over an 8-year period in the US, less than 200 fires were started by exploding or flaming e-cigarettes. According to the CDC, 9 million Americans vape. And among that vast number, maybe 25-50 deal with exploding batteries each year. That puts the likelihood of your e-cigarette exploding at 0.0005% for each year you vape.

The New York Times isn’t immune to sensational headlines, such as Selling a Poison by the Barrel: Liquid Nicotine for E-Cigarettes. The article notes the precisely one person had died from liquid nicotine – a suicide by injection. Yes, there are hundreds of cases per year of nicotine poisoning and calls to poison control, but none of them has resulted in death.

I don’t want to minimize the fear and anxiety and trauma involved, but while nicotine is a poison, it takes a lot to kill someone.

Most of these are due to parents leaving e-liquid bottles or e-cigarettes where their kids can reach them. Please don’t do that. Don’t blame the kids for picking up brightly colored bottles of e-juice when it’s someone else who left them within reach!

By the way, children have also been hospitalized due to nicotine poisoning after chewing on cigarette butts, so it’s not just a vaping thing.


Tobacco and cigarettes take a horrible toll on the environment. By comparison, vaping has minimal impact. However, vaping is not without its environmental issues (recycling batteries, e-liquid bottles, and vaping gear you no longer use) and health concerns (keep anything with nicotine out of reach of children).

If you do recycle your old vaping gear and bottles, you will have minimal impact on the environment. Keep up the good work!

Further Reading

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