Every e-cigarette contains valuable recyclable materials
How Switzerland recycles e-cigarettes

Every e-cigarette contains valuable raw materials that belong back into the cycle. In Switzerland, SENS eRecycling takes care of this. Together with its partners, it operates a take-back system for electrical and electronic equipment, including e-cigarettes, and ensures that they are disposed of properly in specialised recycling companies.

Every e-cigarette contains a lithium battery or a lithium-ion battery, which contains an average of 0.15g of lithium. Lithium has the advantage that it is very light, can store a lot of energy and release it quickly. It is therefore also used in batteries for smartphones, laptops or electric cars. Lithium accumulators or batteries can catch fire very easily and must therefore be disposed of very carefully so that fires are prevented and toxic gases do not escape. The mercury contained in batteries and accumulators is also highly toxic and can harm the environment.

Cobalt, aluminium and copper belong back in the raw materials cycle 

In addition to lithium, e-cigarettes contain other valuable raw materials such as cobalt, nickel, copper and aluminium. Cobalt is mainly mined in Africa and is highly toxic. It is therefore all the more important that this substance can also be recovered through professional recycling and flow back into the material cycle. But copper, aluminium and nickel are also sought-after metals that are separated, sorted and melted down for reuse in recycling plants. Another interesting fact is that nickel in particular is already 100 per cent reusable without any loss of quality. And it can be used again and again. This makes it an ideal metal for the circular economy.

10 million tonnes of lithium end up in waste in the UK every year

Most disposable e-cigarettes contain a rechargeable battery. But because, unlike reusable e-cigarettes, they do not have a charging port, they must be disposed of as soon as the battery is empty. The British Sky News and the Daily Telegraph, together with "The Bureau" for investigative journalism, recently published figures for the UK in an article on the topic of e-cigarettes: there, two disposable e-cigarettes end up in the rubbish every second. That's about 10 million tonnes of lithium in a year. Enough to produce about 1200 batteries for electric cars. Click here for the article.

A Switzerland-wide take-back system

In 2022 alone, 10 million e-cigarettes were imported into Switzerland. The majority ends up in the waste here too. SENS eRecycling has reacted to this development and, together with the Swiss Vape Trade Association (SVTA), has set up an industry solution for the proper disposal of e-cigarettes. Together with the associated partners, they want to collect 50% of the e-cigarettes sold in Switzerland and the Principality of Liechtenstein and dispose of them in an environmentally friendly way.

Specialised recycling companies remove the batteries by hand

The private-sector SENS Foundation has been responsible for the environmentally sound disposal of e-waste for over 30 years. It regularly inspects and certifies its companies responsible for recycling e-cigarettes and other electronic devices and visits them on site. This was the case last month with soRec AG in Gossau SG. soRec AG specialises in the recycling of e-waste and is aware of the dangers posed by delivered rechargeable devices: "The rechargeable batteries must be removed from each device by hand so that short circuits and fires can be prevented and toxic gases cannot escape," explains Markus Stengele, Head of Quality, Environment and Safety at soRec ag.

The battery of an e-cigarette must be removed by hand.

Elaborate preparation for transport

Once the battery has been removed, the external poles of the lithium battery or lithium-ion batteries are covered with adhesive tape in the SENS recycling plants to prevent fires during transport. They are then stored together with the mineral vermiculite in special steel drums. Vermiculite serves as a natural fire protection in these barrels. At the same time, it serves as a cushion for the batteries so that they do not come into contact with each other during transport and produce a short circuit. The barrels are then closed with a flame arrester integrated in the lid and forwarded to Inobat. From there, all batteries collected in Switzerland are sent to the recycling company Batrec in Wimmis (BE), which disposes of and recycles them properly.

Become a vape recycler

Even though recycling e-cigarettes is very time-consuming, it is always worthwhile. After all, they contain important raw materials such as lithium, nickel or cobalt, which are central to the energy transition. With every e-cigarette collected, recyclable material cycles can be closed and hazardous pollutants removed. Become a vape recycler too!