The lithium batteries of disposable electronic cigarettes, commonly discarded after a single use, pose an environmental threat, according to a new study published in the journal Joule. The research, conducted by scientists from University College London (UCL) and the University of Oxford, with the support of The Faraday Institution, highlights a growing environmental threat from these popular disposable e-cigarettes, not designed to be rechargeable.

Led by Paul Shearing, Professor of Sustainable Energy Engineering at the Department of Engineering Sciences at the University of Oxford and UCL, the study revealed that, using a low charge and discharge rate, the batteries of disposable electronic cigarettes retain over 90% of their capacity for more than 700 cycles. This underscores the paradox of potentially durable batteries being regularly discarded, contributing to a growing environmental problem.

Disposable electronic cigarettes have seen a surge in popularity in recent years. In just 15 months, their popularity among eighteen-year-olds in Britain has grown from 0.4% to 54.8%. This rapid increase has led to new disposal-related issues, with approximately 1.3 million devices discarded every week in the UK alone. As a result, around 10,000 kilograms of lithium from e-cigarette batteries ends up in British landfills every year, posing a threat to surrounding waterways with toxic nickel, cobalt, and organic solvents.

Paul Shearing emphasizes the importance of public awareness regarding the type of batteries used in these devices and the need for proper disposal. Users should be informed about the possibility of recycling and reusing electronic cigarette batteries. The appeal also extends to manufacturers to create and promote recycling ecosystems for e-cigarette batteries. Furthermore, the authors encourage a shift towards rechargeable devices, thereby reducing the environmental impact of these consumable devices. Shearing and his team are also exploring new, more selective recycling methods that allow for the recovery of individual components without cross-contamination. Additionally, they are investigating more sustainable battery solutions, including post-lithium models, sodium batteries, and lithium-sulfur batteries.

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