Vapes — the recyclable product that barely anyone is recycling

With Green Week 2023 on the horizon, it is time for students to take our recycling responsibility seriously

From 1995 to 2015, the number of teenagers and young people smoking in Ireland had been continually decreasing. However, according to Professor Luke Clancy of the Tobacco Free Research Institute Ireland, from 2019 onwards this trend has done a complete one-eighty.  In the past four years, smoking has been steadily on the rise again among a new generation. However, cigarettes alone do not dominate the market anymore. You would be hard-pressed to find a bar, nightclub, or any other social area frequented by students nowadays that is vape-free. It is an undeniable fact that, despite the World Health Organisation’s (WHO) health warnings, vaping is here to stay – at least for the foreseeable future. Although, according to Euronews, the European Union has proposed a ban on disposable vapes, there is little evidence that this will be acted upon any time soon.

“71.8% of third-level students surveyed (56/78) did not know that disposable vapes could be recycled at all.”

The sheer volume of vapes being purchased daily raises a serious environmental issue alone. Disposable vapes are often recycled incorrectly, if at all in the first place. The Vape Redemption Project, a 2023 Trinity Entrepreneurial Society’s Dragon’s Den finalist, is a student enterprise initiative that seeks to promote the recycling of these disposable vapes. According to figures collected by this organisation’s co-founders, Katelyn Davis and Lucy Daly, 71.8% of third-level students surveyed (56/78) did not know that disposable vapes could be recycled at all. This number becomes more alarming when you consider the fact that 42.9% said they vape socially, and 31% said they vape daily.

But just how harmful is it for the environment if vapes are disposed of incorrectly? The answer may shock a lot of people. Vapes contain lithium batteries, which, if not recycled properly, can leak into water systems and cause contamination for local wildlife. As well as this, lithium batteries are in very high demand for their uses in electric cars, mobile phones, and PCs. If the college community wants to prove that it is serious about sustainability, then recycling these batteries in vapes is a great message to send. Not only would it help to reduce pollution, but it would also ensure that the production of electric goods can become more sustainable.

In the world of mass consumption that we live in, every individual has a responsibility to help the planet in any small way that we can. Although large-scale change must be put into place by governments and corporations, the work that each individual person can do to help the environment will not go to waste.

Recycling vapes is more complicated than simply putting them in your nearest recycling bin. As they contain lithium batteries, they must be disposed of in specific collection boxes or at specialised recycling centres. The Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Ireland (WEEE Ireland) has their blue battery boxes for recycling vapes in many newsagents and electrical retailers across Dublin. However, there are very few of these boxes within a close radius of College’s campus. This does not encourage students, one of vapes’ largest user bases, to recycle their vapes on a consistent basis. Unfortunately, this leads to them being put in the wrong bin or simply thrown on the ground.

“Having specific vape disposal units on College’s campus will help to promote responsible recycling in a student-friendly manner that is more accessible and free of charge.”

This is where VapeBox comes in. As a result of discovering how inaccessible vape recycling centres can be for students, Katelyn and Lucy of the Vape Redemption Project developed the VapeBox. This is a bin for disposing vapes that will then be collected and brought to the appropriate recycling centres. VapeBox, in conjunction with the Student Union trialed their project in the Arts Building on 14 March 2023, during the lead-up to Green Week. Having specific vape disposal units on College’s campus will help to promote responsible recycling in a student-friendly manner that is more accessible and free of charge. 

Katelyn Davis, co-founder of the Vape Redemption Project, said that their initiative seeks to “take direct action on an environmental issue that is pervasive across Ireland. We want users to become part of a community of environmentally conscious students who are committed to making a positive impact on our planet.” She goes on to say that she hopes this will not only encourage those who do vape to dispose of their vapes correctly, but also to encourage “anyone who simply finds vapes on the street and in bathrooms to recycle them properly with us!”

Small actions can have a big impact on the environment, both positively and negatively. Anti-littering campaigns have been around for years, and have seen great effectiveness in ensuring that people dispose of their plastics, glass bottles, and cartons in their appropriate bins. Vapes shouldn’t be any different you wouldn’t throw your takeaway box on the ground, so why would you leave vapes in the street or in a bathroom? As Green Week 2023 approaches, let’s try to make College a more sustainable, environmentally friendly campus.

Eve Conway

Eve Conway is the Online Editor of Trinity News and is currently in her Senior Sophister year studying English Literature and History.