Dad explains how to turn discarded vapes into phone chargers

A dad has turned disposable vapes, which he collects from the gutter, into rechargeable lanterns that last up to two weeks and portable power banks for his electronic gadgets and musical instruments. Mark Hopgood, 55, a software engineer and musician from Sevenoaks, Kent, managed to charge his iPhone 8 as well as power his toy keyboard and homemade music machine with the lithium batteries he recovered from old disposable vapes which he found littered around the streets near his home.

The father-of-two now performs gigs using his homemade portable chargers to power his equipment via a USB cable and is in the process of building an e-bike which will run on around 80 vape batteries. Mark came up with the idea of making little lanterns after spotting a “bright light” in the gutter which turned out to be vape that had been partially run over and continued to shine for five days after he brought it home.

He hopes his discovery will help inspire people to come up with creative ways of reusing and recycling disposable vapes rather than simply throwing them away, but warned it is important to take certain safety precautions so that the batteries do not overheat and catch fire. Mark uses a battery management system, a small chip that costs around 10p and shuts down the circuit if the battery gets too hot.

It is estimated that around five million single-use vapes are being thrown away every week in the UK, according to the Government – which is planning on banning them by the end of next year at the latest. “The best thing about it is that you are using a resource that is free and getting some benefit out of it before it actually goes to recycling,” he said.

“There’s no obvious way of recycling them unless you go into a vape shop. They just seem to appear, because people have chucked them in the street.

“I didn’t even know that there was nicotine in them – I guess that’s why they are so addictive.”

Mark was out for a walk in June 2023 when he spotted a “stash” of discarded vapes bundled together. “It was as if the fairy godmother of vapes had waved a magic wand,” he said.

“I immediately saw one in the gutter and picked it up. Then I walked a little further and there was a stash of five vapes that had been left on a wall by the bus stop.”

Back home, Mark set to work, taking each one of the colourful smoking devices apart, piece by piece. Mark discovered that they were being powered by a type of lithium-ion rechargeable battery and had a brainwave.

“If you think about a Tesla, that uses the same type of battery that you get in big, chunky vapes,” he said. “So in theory, you could power a Tesla with it, but that level power could be dangerous because it would heat up.”

He began by ordering a battery case, or power bank shell, on Amazon, which he said costs between four and five pounds. He then used a soldering iron to join the batteries to the case, effectively creating a homemade, rechargeable power bank.

“I took one of these DIY battery packs and wired the vape batteries into it,” he said. “Not only could I use it to charge things, but I could also charge it up as well.

“Apparently you can recharge them 400 times, although I suspect it’s more than that.”

Mark wanted to see “how far he could go” with his new invention and started collecting more discarded vapes in the area around his house, the most common one being the Strawberry Ice Elf Bar. “Even if they have been run over slightly, they still seem to work, so they are quite robust,” he said.

“I must have found at least 20 of them.”

A power bank containing five vape 3.7 volt batteries was sufficient to power Mark’s Casio toy keyboard via a USB cable, as well as his music machine which he uses to produce a backing track. He first tested the device at an open mic night at The Chambers pub in Folkstone in August 2023, where he plays regularly on the first Wednesday of every month.

“I took it to the events and powered everything,” he said. “I played a couple of tracks and people were coming up to me afterwards, saying ‘Oh that’s really cool what you’ve done’ – they were really interested.”

This got Mark thinking about what other devices he could power with old vape batteries. One evening, he was cycling back home from the station in Sevenoaks when he spotted a “white, bright light”.

“It was a really dark evening, just before the clocks went back and there was this bright light shining in the gutter,” he said. “So I pulled over and it was a vape that had been run over and been damaged.

“It was like it thought someone was sucking on it all the time. I took it home thinking, ‘Oh is this going to explode because it’s been run over’.

“I took the battery out and the light kept going for like five days. I thought this is really great, I could potentially use this as a lantern.”

Mark purchased a few extra components which he combined with LED lights to make “little lanterns” that can last for several weeks. “It’s quite enchanting in a way, because you’ve got this dinky little light and you just think, this is something that came free,” he said.

“I’ve had one for two weeks now that’s still going. I don’t have a switch on it, it’s just powered on all the time.”

To make the power banks more environmentally friendly, Mark has developed a “solar set up” and said they are powerful enough to charge his iPhone 8 in full. His “ultimate goal” is using old vape batteries to power his e-bike, but this is a work in progress.

“My ultimate aim is to power an e-bike with vape batteries but it’s a little more complicated”, he said. “I measured how much power you would need and it’s quite a lot of cells.

“It’s definitely doable, but you would need something like 80 vapes to make it work.”

Mark always carefully works out how much power is needed to make sure the batteries do not overheat and catch fire. “If you try and get more power out of them too quickly they will heat up,” he said.

He now plans on fitting the batteries with a power management system, a small chip which monitors the temperature and how much current is passing through them. “They only cost something like 10p,” he said. “It measures how much power is coming through the battery.

“It’s a bit like a fuse, it will switch off the circuit and therefore make it safe. The technology is ubiquitous, almost every piece of technology that has a rechargeable battery in it will have a management circuit that will cut out [if it gets too hot].”

Buying a brand new battery like those found in disposable vapes would normally cost around £2.50 wholesale and they retail for up to £6.00. In total, Mark has collected around 40 vapes, but his son Ned, 19, an art student, has collected hundreds for one of his artworks, which he is hoping to get his hands on soon.

“You talk to people and they don’t know that vapes are reusable or could be repurposed,” he said. “It also brings me a sense of pride, because if you’re into making stuff, then it’s pretty easy to put one together once you’ve practised a bit of soldering.”