The plastic packaging and devices, the electronic components (known as e-waste), and the hazardous e-liquids that come from e-cigarettes are all threats to the environment. In the below sections we go into more detail on each of these issues:
Littered e-cigarette packaging and devices are a growing environmental concern in Australia. As concerns about the devastating effects of plastics on the environment grow, it is important to know that disposable e-cigarettes are mostly non-biodegradable and made from plastics that are hard to recycle.
In 2018-19, Australians used 3.4 million tonnes of plastics – over 100kg per person. Every year, roughly 130 000 tonnes of plastic go into the ocean. Only 13% of plastic gets recycled, so even if you do try to recycle an e-cigarette, there is no guarantee it won’t end up in landfill or the environment.
Plastics take hundreds of years to decompose, so they pile up in landfill and waterways and harm the environment. Animals end up eating plastics, which can lead to injury and death. Plastics also break apart over time into microplastics and end up in our food. Researchers are worried that these tiny pieces of plastic could damage our cells and tissues or expose us to harmful chemicals.
E-cigarettes also create electronic waste (known as e-waste) including circuit boards and lithium-ion batteries. If you litter e-cigarettes or put them in normal waste or recycling bins, the electronic components can cause fires. E-cigarette batteries can also pollute the environment with heavy metals, which seep into the soil and can enter groundwater, rivers, and lakes. Research has shown that this harms both the environment and human health, with children even more at risk than adults. There are also environmental harms associated with obtaining the lithium to produce lithium-ion batteries, including water, air and soil contamination.
E-liquids can also leak out of disposed e-cigarettes and harm the environment. Nicotine and nicotine salts are poisonous to fish and other aquatic life and can contaminate drinking water. It is important to remember that labelling is not always correct on e-cigarettes. This means they may have nicotine in them, even if this isn’t on the label.