Increased vape, e-cigarette waste starting to impact beaches, marine life

Vape use is skyrocketing, and researchers are worried about how the waste could hurt coastal ecosystems.

Nearly 25% of middle and high schoolers say they're vaping every single day. Experts now say vapes and e-cigs could be impacting the ocean environment from the plastic they're made of to the toxins inside the cartridges.

"It’s like cigarette smoke, you know – it’s polluting the air," said beachgoer Vickie Salisbury.

However, air pollution isn’t the only problem regarding vaping.

"The vaping debris is becoming a pretty big waste management issue," said Florida Tech's assistant oceanography professor Kelli Hunsucker.

Hunsucker is one of many experts tracking a new trend, seeing fewer cigarettes scattered in the sand and more e-cigs left behind.

"Now, we’re starting to see large amounts of vaping debris found on the beaches too, and with that debris there’s some growing concerns associated with potential impacts to the ocean and aquatic life," the researcher added.

The Brevard Zoo already sees some of those impacts with their tiniest patients.

"When they’re the size of a cookie, we can’t do surgeries on them," said Jess Patterson about sea turtles.


Microplastics are killing or severely injuring baby sea turtles. While at the zoo, FOX 35 met Belle, still passing plastic.

Patterson is with the zoo's sea turtle healing center, and she said nearly 90% of baby turtles who die young are full of plastic pieces.

"Microplastics are everywhere whether it starts out small or becomes small from a larger object," the vet added.

The plastics they find inside the turtles are too small to tell exactly where they came from. Still, any piece of plastic – from a vape or something else -- could end up killing animals who mistake it for food.

"Unfortunately, they can’t quite tell what is food and what is microplastic because we know that these microplastics actually start to smell like food the longer they stay out in the ocean," said Patterson.

Plastic isn’t the only problem with vapes. Hunsucker also worries about how heavy metals, lithium-ion batteries, and nicotine salts affect water quality and sand.

"Even though you might have thought you utilized all of the liquid, there could be some residual," Hunsucker said.

"There is a lot of waste from it, a lot of trash. It’s a bad habit, and I’m sure when it gets into the environment, it makes things even worse," said Derek Mills, who loves the beach and wants to preserve it.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said more than 2 million kids are using vapes in the United States today. Researchers say it's time to get ahead of this issue before it causes long-term damage to our beaches. They would like more awareness and clarity about where vape waste should go.

"Anybody who is buying these products from a specialty retailer, a vape shop, or even a tobacconist that sells vapor products - a lot of times those shops will accept devices for recycling," said Alex Clark, the CEO of Consumer Advocates for Smoke-free Alternatives Association.

You can also take vapes to a hazardous waste or medication take-back location.

"We have to take care of our planet. It’s the only one we’ve got," Salisbury concluded.

In the future, experts hope to see nationwide centralized drop-off programs for vape waste and manufacturers adding information about the proper disposal of their packaging.

If you or someone you know is trying to stop using vapes or e-cigarettes, click here for more information to help.