Lithium-ion batteries are defined as hazardous waste because of their toxic nature and propensity to catch fire when damaged. A report by the EPA found 245 fires that were caused by, or likely caused by lithium-ion batteries had occurred between 2013 and 2020 in waste facilities such as garbage trucks and warehouses. One incident resulted in four firefighters being taken to hospital to be treated for chemical burns.
Despite this, it is perfectly legal to dump these batteries in the household trash in the US. Unlike in the European Union, for example, vapes do not need to undergo specialist recycling, nor do vape producers bear obligations for their products.
Kendall said that the recycling networks in the US “aren’t very good”, despite the fact that the country has the necessary infrastructure.
“It is often onerous for a consumer to know what to do with a small device,” she said. “Even in California it’s really hard to actually get rid of [electric and electronic] waste correctly. Why is anyone going to do it right when it’s so easy to just stick it in the bin?”
The EPA said that a 2021 executive order from Joe Biden on supply chains is high on its list of priorities. It added that “increasing the recovery of critical minerals such as lithium from recycled batteries is an important part of this effort”.
This new data suggests that disposable vapes are now the most popular variety of e-cigarette in the US among young people, overtaking pod-based systems, such as Juul, and vape pens – both of which allow refills of vape liquid and therefore last longer.
The research shows Elf Bar has risen steeply in popularity to become the most used disposable vape brand by young people. An investigation by the Bureau earlier this year found that Elf Bar and its sister brand Geek Bar are the most popular disposable vape products in the UK, where two devices are being thrown away every second.
Elf Bar and Geek Bar did not respond to requests for comment.