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'It loves to start the landfill on fire': Gallatin County sets its sights on reducing e-cigarette waste

Posted at 6:43 PM, Feb 23, 2024

BOZEMAN — Vaping has become increasingly popular among the younger generations. But did you know that along with being a health hazard, the way you dispose of e-cigarettes can also cause environmental issues?

“I don't know how to dispose of one. I would probably just throw it away in the garbage.”

“Probably just in the garbage, ya.”

Those are the words of two Montana State students who say many of their friends vape, but few know how to properly dispose of the devices.

“The majority of e-cigarette users are under the age of 18, and people under the age of 21 shouldn't be able to buy these products, right? So when they're having them, how can we convince them to make sure they're throwing them away when they aren't supposed to have them,” asks Cherie Murbach, the Gallatin County tobacco education specialist for Healthy Gallatin.

Murbach explains how getting young people to responsibly throw away vapes is a challenge.

“E-cigarettes are classified as hazardous waste, mainly because they have a lithium-ion battery in them,” she says.

That’s why Healthy Gallatin recently partnered with Gallatin Solid Waste, incorporating e-cigarettes into their hazardous waste takeback days. But what specifically is so harmful about lithium batteries?

“Those batteries, if they're exposed to the elements, can go into what's called a thermal runaway. Light on fire spontaneously, and it can burn your house down, it can burn a garbage truck down, and it loves to start the landfill on fire,” says Jim Simon, Gallatin Solid Waste Director.

Jim says he has seen numerous fires in the last year, all caused by lithium-ion batteries.

“I think it's just the pure volume that was coming in,” he says.

That’s one of the reasons Gallatin Solid Waste agreed to open an e-cigarette drop station, free to anyone, or any company in Bozeman.

According to the Gallatin City-County Health Department, 75% of e-cigarette users don’t dispose of their devices properly. And with 26% of youth and 6% of adults in Montana regularly using these nicotine products, there is a big risk of harming the environment.

“When they get disposed of, thrown in the trash or on the ground, the nicotine and other chemicals in them can leak into the water and cause nicotine poisoning in animals and kids,” says Murbach.

The Bozeman Convenience Site is open for e-cigarette drops the second Saturday of every month. People can also stop by during their regular hours of 8 a.m. to 3:30 p.m., but they’ll have to go to the weigh station window and tell them they have an e-cigarette drop-off.

If you can’t make it out to the convenience site, many local vape shops offer to collect e-cigarettes and drop them off.

“Getting this out there is the main thing. we want people to know this is a problem and that there is something they can do to help it” says Murbach.