Is vaping better for the environment than smoking?
In our eco-conscious culture, it’s no surprise that many people are questioning the environmental impact of vaping. We wanted to explore if vaping is actually better for our planet than smoking.
Consider these points. Market research group Euromonitor estimates that there will be nearly 55 million adults vaping by 2021; and, as of 2018, there were 565 different types of e-cigarette device available, 184 of which were disposable or single-use.
As vapers, and inhabitants of this increasingly fragile planet, we have a duty to vape in the most environmentally friendly way we possibly can. This article will explain that, done responsibly, vaping can be far more eco-friendly than smoking - as long as we all do our bit.
Go filter free
The 2014 global estimate for smoking related waste was ≈ 1.7 billion pounds, of which filters make up the vast majority. These synthetic cigarette butts are tossed on the pavement, into the street, down the drain - anywhere that’s convenient when the smoker has finished their ciggie.
Even when fag ends don’t litter our streets, they still end up in landfill. Contrary to what the tobacco industry would like you to believe, cigarette filters don’t fully biodegrade in landfill. Instead they break down into smaller plastic pieces causing up to 7,000 disgusting toxins and chemicals in the butts to leach into the soil and water.
Choosing vaping rather than smoking means that you are contributing to a reduction in the amount of smoking related waste, and its associated environmental impacts.
Commercial tobacco farming has resulted in the loss of billions of hectares of rainforest which has increased greenhouse gas emissions and caused potentially irreversible damage.
Plus, over 4 million hectares of fertile land has become weakened due to the practice of growing tobacco as a monocrop. This agricultural method leads to an increased dependency on pesticides and artificial fertilisers - both of which can have a devastating impact on the environment.
Consider that, for every 15 packs of cigarettes manufactured, one tree is cut down. Over their lifetime, the average smoker will be responsible for the loss of 352 trees.
No smoke without fire
Fumes from cigarette smoke contain thousands of chemicals that contribute to air pollution. In fact, the results of a controlled experiment reported in Tobacco Control suggest that the air pollution from just 3 cigarettes is 10 times greater than a diesel car’s exhaust.
Environmental tobacco smoke creates air pollution particles which can lead to conditions such as asthma, bronchitis, emphysema, lung cancer, and chronic lung disease. The risks of developing these conditions isn’t limited to the smoker. Secondhand smoke can also be harmful to non-smokers - particularly the elderly and young children.
Vaping doesn’t produce smoke and, at the time of writing, there has been no identified health risk of passive vaping. The vapour produced by e-cigarettes does contain low levels of chemicals but, unlike cigarette smoke, they don’t go over acceptable environmental levels.
The UK laws that strictly prohibit smoking in enclosed public spaces (and cars containing children) do not apply to the use of e-cigarettes. To date, organisations have been left to make their own decisions on vaping indoors. As people with respiratory conditions can show sensitivity to a wide range of environmental irritants, which could include the vapour from an e-cigarette, PHE advises that organisations take this into account when making their decision.
Vaping and the environment
Just as we’ve never claimed that vaping is 100% safe for the health of humans, we’re also not going to profess that vaping is 100% safe for the health of the planet.
Vaping definitely has its environmental impacts; however, at the moment, the industry isn’t old enough for us to be able to quantify them precisely. The Tobacco Control group is advocating for more scientific research to be conducted so that recommendations can be made and, where necessary, regulations put in place.
In the meantime, what we can all do is to think and act in an eco-friendly way when vaping until the necessary regulations catch up to the growing vaping industry.
Our tips for eco-conscious vaping
Disposal of batteries
Most vaping devices use lithium ion batteries which have a long lifespan and can be recharged. When the time does come to change your battery, or device, make sure you recycle the old one in a designated battery recycling bin, rather than putting it in with your general household waste.
Battery recycling containers can be found across the UK. As well as your local recycling centre, you can usually find them in supermarkets, libraries, schools, and even your workplace.
The materials held within batteries can be recovered and reused; reducing the demand for raw materials and preserving resources.
Vape battery charging
Speaking of vape batteries, switching your e-cig off when you’re not using it will prolong the life of the battery. Also, only charge your vaping device until it is fully charged. Leaving it on charge overnight is a waste of energy, which is very eco-unfriendly. Plus, over-charging puts strain on the battery and reduces its lifespan.
If you’re a frequent vaper, you should be using a refillable vaping device if you want to preserve the planet. Single use, or disposable, cig-a-likes (like you see in off-licenses and petrol stations) might be handy in an emergency, but they ain’t great for mother earth.
Reuse or safely dispose
Taste is subjective, and that applies to e-liquid too. Sometimes I can love a new flavour for about a week; by which time the purchase is already made. Instead of wasting the vape juice, I keep it for family get togethers. Most of my family vape so I can usually find someone who is happy to take a near-full bottle of e-liquid off my hands.
If not, my next port of call is to attempt a vape juice cocktail. It’s amazing how many new flavour concoctions I’ve come up with over the years. Top tip - it turns out that many flavours that I’ve fallen out of love with can be improved with the addition of a bit of menthol e-liquid.
Failing all of that, I have to get rid of the unwanted e-juice. In order to dispose of it safely, and in an environmentally friendly manner, please don’t simply throw the bottle in the bin. E-liquid can be hazardous to children and animals; putting a bottle in the bin could lead to it being found and drunk.
Also, resist the urge to pour the juice down the drain. We simply don’t have the impact assessments in place yet to know if this has any effect on our waterways.
Instead, the safest way to dispose of unwanted e-liquid is to empty it onto an absorbent material such as cat litter, sawdust, or eco-absorb, popping it into a compostable bag, and disposing with your normal waste.
Recycle! Recycle! Recycle!
Once you’ve used up (or properly disposed of) all the e-liquid in the bottle, the next thing to consider is how to dispose of the bottle itself. There can be no doubt that plastic is a scourge on our planet. As fantastic as the TPD regulations have been for ensuring a high level of quality and safety for UK vapers, the rule for restricting nicotine containing e-liquids to 10ml plastic bottles has not been welcomed by environmentalists.
As mentioned above, short fills have been a great introduction in recent years to reduce the quantity of bottles that the vaping industry gets through. However, those are still made from plastic and need to be disposed of.
The e-liquids that we sell come in plastic bottles that are widely accepted by recycling centres. As an added bonus, if you break down most vaping devices into their constituent parts, including the glass, packaging, and metal casings, the bulk can be put into the recycling bin.
Mind your footprint
Another way to be an eco-friendly vaper is to check with your chosen supplier where their products come from. At Vape UK, for example, all of our own e-liquids are manufactured right here in the UK. That means that there has been no air shipping required to get it from supplier to shelf.
With vaping hardware, that becomes a little trickier as most of it is manufactured outside the UK. However, you can still do your bit by making sure your device of choice is top quality. Reputable brands might cost a little more upfront, but their products will last you far longer meaning you won’t need to replace them as often.
Vaping vs. smoking - the environmental impact
Throughout the whole life cycle of tobacco there is a definite threat to the environment. In fact, a recent report by the United Nations Environmental Programme found that, “if the tobacco industry was made to pay for the harm that it causes, it would not turn a profit.”
While we can be in no doubt that smoking is bad for everything and everyone, the overall impacts of vaping are yet to be thoroughly defined. There is definitely an environmental cost associated with vaping, and regulations need to change in order to minimise those further.
However, in the meantime, what we can do as responsible vapers is follow these tips and minimise our own impact. Switching from smoking to vaping means you’ve made a positive decision to benefit your health; just make sure that you’re also keeping the health of the planet in mind.
We're here to help you quit smoking for good
At Vape UK, we pride ourselves on being responsible vaping advocates. We keep up to date with all of the latest news and studies; we supply high quality TPD compliant vaping products; and we are always on hand to offer helpful and honest advice about vaping. Please get in touch if you have any queries on quitting smoking.
- Nicola Webster