Take charge – Tobacco Reporter
But maybe, completely out of character, I’m being unfair. Perhaps such confusing thinking is unsurprising in a complex world. What about, for example, e-cigarettes and other battery-powered devices intended to help smokers switch to less risky products? Of course, there are huge direct personal health benefits of combustible cigarette smokers switching to e-cigarettes, but what about the indirect negative effects caused by careless disposal of e-cigarette batteries, including this article is mainly concerned, and other materials? How do these effects, which also affect non-users, compare to those of discarded cigarette butts? And where do non-burning appliances, with their batteries and cigarette butts, come into the equation?
What’s the problem, you might ask. Well, from my admittedly less than comprehensive research on the Internet, most electronic vapor devices use lithium-ion batteries, which are compact and complex devices designed with no concern for disassembly, although various of their elements can be recycled. In simple terms, they include cathode, anode, separator, and electrolyte. Battery technology is constantly evolving, but currently they may contain, among others, copper, aluminum, cobalt, nickel, manganese or rare earth metallic elements. And, of course, lithium. Since these batteries contain heavy metals and toxic chemicals, their disposal in landfills, where they will eventually leak, raises concerns about soil contamination, water pollution and combustion.
The good news is that these batteries, or parts of them, can be recycled and in many countries there are facilities for such recycling. The bad news is that recycling is not without problems. This could, for example, involve chemical or mechanical separation and/or melting and, in these high-energy processes, give rise to significant electrical, chemical and thermal problems and costs.
Another concern is the numbers. Some figures suggest that “up to” 90% of battery cells can be recycled, which is far from comforting, as it could mean between 0% and 90%. And, in any case, this only concerns the percentages of battery materials that can be recycled. Due to technical, economic, logistical, regulatory and other factors, less than 5% of lithium-ion batteries are currently recycled.
This 5% figure refers to all lithium-ion batteries, so given that car batteries are the same type, either there will be a lot of pressure to make the recycling of these batteries more efficient than it is. Either we’re going to end up with a mountain of used batteries in landfills. Again, from my reading, in the absence of large-scale organized recycling operations, battery manufacturers will continue to focus on reducing production costs and increasing longevity and capacity. battery charging. Increasing battery life does provide a benefit, but it shouldn’t be allowed to replace recycling.
Fortunately, there are commercial and other advantages to recycling, but, as above, they are often outweighed by the perceived disadvantages. A swing factor is the price of the metals concerned. If the cost of their extraction is higher than the cost of their recycling, recycling is likely to be taken into account; otherwise, probably not. This is the logic of the free market. But it’s not simple because decisions are influenced by the fact that mines and recycling facilities are capital-intensive and take a relatively long time to set up while CEO bonuses are determined on the basis of annual reports. These short-term factors are also likely to cloud the benefit that recycling could prevent future shortages of cobalt and nickel, for example. And that could encourage battery makers to ignore the fact that metal supply chains often start in a limited number of countries, some of which are politically unstable.
So far I’ve only written about vaping devices, but there are different types, and perhaps it’s a shame that disposables seem to be on the rise. While rechargeable devices last a while and have easily removable batteries that in many countries can be taken to local recycling centers, disposable devices last a few days, have batteries that cannot be easily removed, and must be brought in their entirety to a specialist e – waste collection centers where they are available.