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Battery Not Included: The Urgent Need for Responsible Battery Waste Management in Cannabis Vaping

When it comes to cannabis vaping, one environmental challenge looms large: battery waste. As the industry continues to grow, so does the pile of discarded vape pens and cartridges, many of which contain lithium-ion batteries that pose serious environmental risks if not properly managed. This is not just a minor issue; it’s a significant environmental hazard that needs urgent attention from consumers, manufacturers, and regulators alike.

The Scale of the Problem

Each year, Electronic Cannabis Delivery Systems (ECDS) and Electronic Nicotine Delivery Systems (ENDS) contribute to approximately 42 million kilograms of global electronic waste. To put that into perspective, this is equivalent to about 46,297 US tons annually. While this may seem like a drop in the ocean compared to the 9 billion kilograms of invisible e-waste generated worldwide, it represents a rapidly growing sector of waste that is both hazardous and largely unregulated.

Hazards of Improper Disposal

Lithium-ion batteries, which power the vast majority of cannabis vaping devices, are classified under several jurisdictions as hazardous waste. This classification is due to their composition and the risks they pose when damaged, such as leaking harmful chemicals into the environment and causing fires in waste facilities[^3]. Most consumers are unaware that throwing these batteries in the trash or recycling bins can lead to serious environmental and safety issues. The Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) underscores that these batteries should not be disposed of in household garbage or recycling bins due to the severe risks they pose.

Advancing Battery Recycling Efforts

Recognizing the dire need for proper disposal mechanisms, some companies and local governments have begun implementing take-back programs and other initiatives aimed at mitigating this waste. However, these efforts are sporadic and often limited in scope. The reality remains that less than 10% of ECDS or their batteries are currently being recycled through established programs[^5], a stark reminder of the need for more comprehensive approaches.

Proposing Solutions: Extended Producer Responsibility

One of the most promising frameworks for tackling the e-waste crisis in the vaping industry is Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR). EPR programs could require manufacturers to finance the recycling and safe disposal of their products, thus ensuring that the environmental costs of these products are accounted for throughout their lifecycle. Implementing such programs would not only help in reducing waste but also encourage manufacturers to design products with better recyclability. But this isn’t possible without …

Regulatory Support Is Crucial

The effectiveness of recycling programs hinges largely on support from regulatory bodies. Regulations need to be tailored to facilitate, rather than hinder, the recycling of vape waste. This could involve specific mandates for the recycling of vape products and batteries, adjustments in the classification of cannabis waste to accommodate recycling, and incentives for companies that participate in or initiate recycling programs.

For instance, Oregon has led the way by allowing cannabis licensees to manage marijuana waste in environmentally friendly ways, which other states could emulate. This kind of regulatory support could pave the way for more sustainable practices across the industry. 

Another example comes from across the pond: the mandatory “Eco Tax” (short for Ecological Taxation) covers the cost of household and industrial waste disposal for electric and electronic goods (EEE). This tax is due in all European Union member states, plus Norway and Switzerland. 

In France, the eco contribution is based on a fixed amount for each type of product and paid by unit sold, for example: 0.02€/USB sticks sold, 0.45€/lamps sold between 3.5kg and 10kg.

The Role of Consumers

Education plays a critical role in the management of battery waste. Consumers must be made aware of the impacts of improper disposal and the steps they can take to dispose of their vaping devices responsibly. By understanding that their actions can lead to significant environmental benefits, consumers can be more mindful of how they dispose of vape pens and batteries.

Looking Forward

As the cannabis industry continues to grow, so does the responsibility to ensure its sustainability. Battery waste from vaping devices is a significant challenge that requires collaborative efforts to tackle effectively. Through a combination of innovative recycling programs, supportive regulations, and consumer education, we can begin to mitigate the environmental impact of our vaping habits.

In an industry as dynamic and innovative as cannabis, adopting sustainable practices isn’t just good for the environment—it’s essential for the long-term viability of the industry itself. Let’s not wait for the waste problem to become insurmountable. The time to act is now.

For a deeper dive into the sustainability challenges and solutions in cannabis vaping, download our comprehensive white paper.

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