/ BNS foto /
In 2020, the e-cigarette market in Europe generated around € 8.69 billion. The market is projected to grow by a third and reach about € 11.5 billion by 2025. These forecasts are favourable for sellers but cause a headache to waste management companies. Although e-cigarettes must be managed as small electronic waste under the regulation, as many as 60% of smokers admit to throwing away used e-cigarettes into bins in public places or household waste containers. As the demand for e-cigarettes grows, waste management companies suggest investing in the development of collection infrastructure for this waste.
The global market for e-cigarettes is booming, with different reports forecasting annual growth rates ranging from 4.31% to 16.5%. The growing popularity is also confirmed by the public opinion survey conducted in Lithuania, revealing that almost one in four respondents (23%) have smoked or currently are smoking e-cigarettes.
Used e-cigarettes are classified as small electronic waste. They must be collected and managed separately, without mixing them with household or other types of waste. Used or spent e-cigarettes may be returned to the point of sale. They can also be disposed of in special collection boxes for small electronics, usually found in supermarkets. Meanwhile, according to the representative public opinion survey commissioned by the waste management company Žalvaris, as many as 74% of Lithuanians dispose of e-cigarettes in random places.
Survey results confirm concerns
The experience of waste management company Žalvaris also shows that smokers often throw away e-cigarettes in the wrong places.
“More and more e-cigarettes are found in containers for collecting batteries and electrolyte waste, most often in the electrolyte collection boxes in apartment blocks and petrol stations. In total, we have installed more than 14,000 such boxes throughout Lithuania. We have noticed that e-cigarettes are starting to account for up to 5% of their contents. If this trend continues, given the annual volume of collected primary cells, the number of spent e-cigarettes in the collection boxes for primary cells could reach up to three tonnes per year in the future,” says Kristina Kavaliauskienė, the Sales Director of Žalvaris, a company that manages hazardous and non-hazardous waste.
The survey results have revealed that 39% of the respondents throw e-cigarette waste directly into the household waste bins. In comparison, 21% of the respondents throw it in public waste containers.
“E-cigarettes are small devices containing metals, plastics, liquids, and a battery. When discarded out of place, batteries are harmful to the environment. At the same time, most of their parts can take hundreds of years to decompose. A staggering amount of this waste ends up in landfills along with household waste, and we need to find a solution,” says Ms Kavaliauskienė.
Yet, a quarter of the respondents (24%) dispose of the spent e-cigarettes in the right places, namely in boxes available in supermarkets to collect small electronics. 21% of the respondents admit to sorting this waste, but not in the right way: they discard e-cigarettes into the containers for plastic and paper (7%), throw them into the collection boxes for primary cells available in apartment blocks (7%), or stack them at home (7%).
Infrastructure for the collection of e-cigarettes must be provided
An overwhelming majority (80%) of the survey respondents think that used e-cigarettes should be collected in special containers and recycled. Moreover, the absolute majority (86%) of the respondents confirm that they would dispose of used e-cigarettes into special containers if these were in public places.
“All e-cigarettes, including the packaging, have special marking, indicating that their waste cannot be discarded into household waste bins. However, the survey results show that smokers are most likely unaware of how to dispose of their e-cigarettes, unwilling or unmotivated to dispose of them properly, or unable to find a collection box for small electronic waste. Given the smokers’ age and lifestyle, the infrastructure for collecting this waste should be closer to the leisure locations of e-cigarette users – cafes, bars, clubs, event venues and other meeting points,” says Ms Kavaliauskienė.
According to Kristina Kavaliauskienė, several good practices in Lithuania are pretty effective in waste management, such as well-functioning deposit systems and procedures for collecting batteries, primary cells, and small electronics. With a proven and well-functioning infrastructure for collecting diverse types of waste, it can easily be made even more accessible to the population by adapting the existing system to specific problems.
Ms Kavaliauskienė says that, given the actual and projected consumption of e-cigarettes, the volume of this waste will most definitely increase. The problem of e-waste management can be tackled effectively by planning and allocating sufficient funding.
“Moreover, we must devote time and resources to another critical waste management issue – public education. People need to be better informed on how to correctly handle spent e-cigarettes and comply with the procedures set by the State,” continues Ms Kavaliauskienė.
In Lithuania, the collection of waste electrical and electronic equipment and related public education is ensured by producers and distributors, either individually or through organisations representing them.
A representative survey of 1,006 respondents between the ages of 18 and 75 was conducted between 25 August and 2 September 2022 by the research company Spinter Research on behalf of Žalvaris.