Nicotine Removal From Water

Nicotine removal from water is straightforward and inexpensive using our Nyex Rosalox water treatment system. The Nicotine is first adsorbed onto our Nyex Media and then reduced to water and gas (vented away) using a small electric current, which passes through the Nyex Media and Nicotine. This means the energy consumption is optimised and the operating costs are minimal.

What we achieved

Our Nyex Rosalox system easily reduced 33mg/L Nicotine to trace levels, saving our client large incineration costs.

Rosalox logo How it works

How Nicotine gets into water

Nicotine occurs naturally in the nightshade family of plants – these include tomatoes and of course tobacco – hence the ‘polarisation’ of opinions and studies we have seen when attempting to research this article.

Whilst some studies show nicotine is biodegradable, other scientists contend that the harm it does to the environment in a variety of ways, means that its presence in water should be far more closely controlled.

If you already know this and wish to know how to get rid of it in a cost-effective way, click here to zoom down the page.

Here are a few scenarios where nicotine ends up in water and what can be done about it.

1.Manufacture of nicotine products

The manufacture of tobacco products and e-cigarettes as well as a panoply of smoking cessation productions like patches and gum will lead to traces of nicotine and other harmful chemicals and heavy metals in wastewater.

In many cases, the levels of these pollutants are not regulated, leading to high concentrations in rivers and watercourses.

Even a small amount of nicotine in water can be dangerous although what that concentration is varies widely according to the source.

2.Cigarette butts

Discarded cigarette butts ‘contain a mixture of over 7,000 toxic substances, notably bio accumulative heavy metals, polycyclic aromatic compounds, ethyl phenol, and nicotine’ according to pressure group Unfair Tobacco. Of surprise to many is that cigarette filters are not readily biodegradable.

What is self-evident is that every year, trillions of cigarette butts are discarded everywhere into the environment, many ending up in watercourses. Every butt has an element of tobacco residue.

3.Vape liquid packaging

Both cardboard cigarette packaging and containers for vape liquid offer potential for additional pollution due to being considered (literally) ‘throwaway’ items.

Again, there’s potential for nicotine to pollute watercourses and marine environments.

4.Disposal of e-cigarettes

There’s a lack of regulation regarding the disposal of e-cigarettes which will eventually have to be addressed worldwide. US-based waste industry software company PegEx says: ‘Proper disposal of an e-cigarette requires removing the filler material, rinsing it under running water until all nicotine residues are removed, and then wrapping it in a scrap of biodegradable material. The cartridge itself should be similarly rinsed and then sealed with its original plug.’
But therein lies the flaw, as they infer there is no issue with flushing nicotine away to the sewer!

Use of nicotine-based pesticides

This article details our thoughts about the use of neonicotinoid-based products in agriculture. This is an issue that isn’t going away, according to the BBC – in the UK at least.

Although banned by the EU for some years after some pretty robust scientific evidence, pesticides containing nicotine – neonicotinoids – are still in use in some territories and have been shown in studies to do harm to aquatic life and wildlife, especially bees.

In 2022, the UK government has again agreed to allow the use of one product – thiamethoxam – to be used to combat yellows virus in sugar beet crops, much to the dismay of environmental campaigners.

Agriculture of tobacco

Most tobacco is now grown in developing countries. In some areas, systems of monitoring and control for agriculture may not be as well-regulated as they are in Europe or the US.

Therefore, there are two issues with tobacco-growing:

Agrochemical use for tobacco crops

Run-off from conventional pesticides, herbicides and fertilisers. Growers are often subsistence farmers buying their supplies from the company that will eventually buy back their crop leading to potential exploitation with the environment hardly considered

Nicotine pollution from tobacco crops left behind in the field

After harvesting, a proportion of the crop stays on the land as slash, causing pollution from the nicotine, especially if (as many growing areas are prone to) the land can flood after the growing season.

Removal of nicotine from water

For many years, activated carbon has been the ‘go to’ technology for nicotine removal from water.  The nicotine is adsorbed well by the GAC and for some companies and some process, activated carbon is still relevant.

However as we detail here, activated carbon is not necessarily the best way to remove many recalcitrant compounds, due to its high environmental costs and the negative impact on a company’s carbon footprint.

Add to that the fact that activated carbon needs regular replenishment, meaning that treatments may need to be taken off-line from time to time.

Considerably more flexible, equally as effective and certainly more environmentally friendly is Arvia’s Rosalox™ family of treatment systems.

Utilising our patented, self-regenerating Nyex™ media, a Rosalox™ system is a unique combination of adsorption and electro-chemistry.

Needing only a 2-3% media top-up every year, this easy-to-use system requires no additional chemical dosing and generates no toxic sludge.

Suitable for placement at any stage of a water treatment train, our compact units can be retro-fitted almost anywhere – including in all types of manufacturing plants to remove pollutants at source, and in utilities – to treat groundwater.

They can even be sited remotely, as once running, they require minimal operator intervention.

Irais Baizabal

Wastewater Consultant

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