I think I finally realized the severity of the waste produced by disposable vapes when I went to the beach and saw three laying in the sand within 20 feet of each other while I was walking along the water. The rise of disposable vapes, which are one-use non-rechargeable devices, presents a cheap and convenient way for people to use nicotine. However, with this cheapness and convenience also comes unnecessary harm to the environment. Disposable vapes produce electronic waste from the battery, plastic waste from the packaging, and toxic waste from the chemicals. Although rechargeable vaping devices are admittedly more expensive, they produce much less waste than disposable vapes or cigarettes, and have a much longer lifespan. Additionally, tobacco-free nicotine pouches produce a lot less plastic waste than traditional vaping devices, but they are non-biodegradable and throwing them away still releases chemical waste. Nicotine replacements like gum and patches also produce less waste than disposable vapes and cigarettes. While there is no perfect alternative, and disposable vapes may be less environmentally hazardous than traditional cigarettes, there are many options that are more sustainable than disposables. There are a plethora of disposable vape companies but I decided to research the Breeze disposable vapes, which are popular where I live in Michigan. They come in 20 different flavors and I chose to investigate Mint. The MSRP is $12.99, as Breeze Smoke sells their products wholesale. Disposable vapes are a fairly new product and it is hard to assess their environmental impact so far, however, it is alarmingly clear that they are unsustainable. From producing unnecessary electronic, toxic, and plastic waste and polluting the environment with chemicals and microplastics, a lack of transparency regarding how to properly dispose of their products that leads to thousands of disposable vapes ending up in landfills, and a manufacturing process with little to no public information on how the products are made, I can’t say that there is any part of the process that is eco-friendly. It is clear that sustainability is nowhere on Breeze’s radar, but I can safely say for any other disposable vape brand that one thing is for certain: the way disposable vapes are engineered is unsustainable.
Breeze disposable vapes, like many other disposables, contain a 650mAh battery within a plastic casing, which also houses the liquid that contains nicotine and the mint flavoring. Lithium ion batteries found in e-cigarettes require specialized disposal since they are classified as household hazardous waste, and since there are no instructions for the user to dispose of them properly on Breeze’s packaging, these batteries will likely end up in the landfill. In the United States, less than 5% of lithium ion batteries are recycled, and even though this recycling process is energy intensive and expensive, lithium ion batteries also contain valuable metals that can be recycled and reused. Disposable vapes are a one-time-use product that need no additional components, marketed for their convenience and easiness to use. However, this also means that repeat users will contribute to generating electronic waste every time they buy a disposable vape, since their lifespan can range from just days to weeks. Each vape also contains 3.5mL of liquid, and Breeze states that the liquid’s ingredients include vegetable glycerin, propylene glycol, glycerol, flavoring, benzoic acid and nicotine. It is common for e-cigarette manufacturers to leave ingredients undisclosed to the user, and I was unable to find any reports specifically about the makeup of Breeze’s vape liquid. Vegetable glycerin and propylene glycol are both used as additives in vape liquid, and the different ratios of vegetable glycerin to propylene glycol impact the liquid’s potency, consistency and flavor. Vegetable glycerin and propylene glycol have not been observed to have a noticeable environmental impact in small amounts; however, scientists have discovered that the nicotine solution commonly found in vaping liquid can be acutely toxic to aquatic animals. Additionally, disposable vapes that are discarded on the street will break down into microplastics and chemicals and pollute the water and surrounding environment because they cannot biodegrade. On a small scale this may not seem like a cause for alarm, but thousands of disposable vapes are discarded irresponsibly every day, and there are no guidelines on Breeze’s packaging for properly disposing of their product. This also does not account for the plethora of different disposable vape brands that already exist.
The label says Breeze disposable vapes are designed in the United States, and manufactured in the PRC. PRC stands for People’s Republic of China and this type of labeling is a common way for manufacturers to lure consumers into believing that something is domestically produced. The actual manufacturer is Shenzhen Aierbaita Technology Co., Ltd., in Shenzhen, China, also known as Aierbaita, a mass manufacturer of e-cigarettes. The production of glycerin and propylene glycol, which are some of the main ingredients in vape liquid, is an extremely energy-intensive chemical process, but can be created from the byproducts of biodiesel manufacturing. However, it is not clear where any of the individual ingredients for Breeze disposable vapes are sourced from and the lack of transparency leads me to believe that it is unsustainable or unethical.
Aierbaita was started in 2015 and is a huge manufacturer of e-cigarettes with over 500 employees. According to their website they have 470 different kinds or brands of disposable vapes, and they boast that they sell to suppliers in 150 countries. All parts of Breeze disposable vapes are packaged at Aierbaita’s facility in Shenzhen and then shipped to various distributors. Although Breeze’s e-cigarettes are FDA certified, any e-cigarette product that is submitted to the FDA’s Center for Tobacco Products will require an Environmental Impact Assessment by 2022, allowing small disposable vape brands to continue manufacturing their products until then without much environmental regulation. I was unable to find information about Aierbaita’s labor practices and employment which makes me skeptical about their treatment of their employees. Breeze Smoke also does not have any sustainability claims on their website: I can appreciate this because they’re not trying to advertise their product as something that it’s not, but at the same time it is very clear that they do not consider the environmental impact of their products or manufacturing.