Colorado topped the list for teen vaping in 2018 and Boulder is one of the hot spots. The teen vaping epidemic has created all sorts of health problems. It’s also created a whole new environmental problem in discarded pens and the abundant pods that come with them.
The pod is a small plastic cartridge that holds the nicotine liquid. It snaps into the smoking device, which looks like a flash drive. In 2017, people bought more than 16 million of the devices in the U.S. and that figure doesn’t include the pods.
Those sleek, high-tech e-cigarettes are actually a growing hazardous waste problem. Shelly Fuller, Boulder County’s Hazardous Materials program manager, said they shouldn’t be tossed in the trash. Instead, they should be brought to a hazardous waste or recycling center like hers.
At a battery sorting table, she shows off a bucket of e-cigarette items. About two years ago she started seeing a new tributary in the waste stream of vaporizers, pods and batteries; people were dropping them off and they were showing up in the trash. “If you’re coming in to drop off paint or household chemicals or anything like that you might also bring in your vaping devices,” Fuller said.
One time it was a parent getting rid of a soda box full of refillable plastic containers for liquids used in vaping devices. They’d found them in their child’s room and Fuller said their feeling was, “‘I just want to get this out of my house. I don’t want them to have access to this.’”
Different components of the e-cigarettes get treated separately. Vaping devices have batteries, usually lithium-ion. She ships them to a recycling facility in Arizona. Fuller said most e-liquids contain nicotine, which goes to a facility on Colorado’s eastern plains for recycling or proper disposal, such as incineration. “We’re shipping it off with our poisons or toxics,” Fuller said. Nicotine is considered an acute hazardous waste, she said, as small doses can be lethal to a human, or a small animal.