Refillable Vs. Disposable Vape Cartridges
The ongoing proliferation of vape cartridges, dab pens, and pod systems has dramatically changed the face of the cannabis marketplace. Today, consumers can enjoy cannabis extracts and concentrates wherever they are, without the hassle of blow torches and complicated dab rigs.
This convenience afforded by vape products has made them a staple on dispensary shelves, and vape sales get closer and closer to rivaling flower every fiscal year. But, for some manufacturers, the question of convenience is a delicate balancing act between simplicity and customization options. Disposable cartridges are straightforward to operate, can be used anywhere, and require no maintenance, but do consumers actually prefer to refill vape cartridges themselves?
What Is 510 Thread Vape Cartridge?
The vast majority of vape cartridges currently on the market are known as 510 thread cartridges. The number 510 describes the thread measurement on the part of the cartridge that screws into the battery.
510 thread is the industry standard for both cartridges and batteries. This means that consumers can experiment with multiple different cartridge strains and brands on a single 510 thread battery. In contrast, pod systems like PAX only work with proprietary cartridges.
Anatomy Of A 510 Vape Cartridge
The typical 510 thread vape cartridge can be broken down into several distinct components that each serve an essential function. They are as follows:
- The Mouthpiece: As the name suggests, the mouthpiece is the part of the cartridge where users will place their mouths to inhale the vapor the device creates. Larger mouthpieces give the vapor more time to cool off, resulting in better flavor and mouthfeel, while shorter mouthpieces help the device stay compact and portable. These are typically made of plastic, though higher quality cartridges often utilize better materials like ceramic.
- The Tank: Every 510 cartridge has a tank/chamber which holds the cannabis concentrate. Disposable 510 cartridges come pre-filled with cannabis concentrates, while refillable carts come with empty tanks. Tanks are usually made from transparent materials such as plastic, glass, quartz so that users can monitor vape oil levels.
- The Heating Element: The heating element, also sometimes referred to as an atomizer, is the device's engine. It generates the heat which will convert the cannabis concentrate into an inhalable vapor. While many vape manufacturers construct heating elements out of metal and plastic, full ceramic 510 cartridges offer superior performance and eliminate the risk of toxic heavy metal leaching.
- The Battery: The battery provides the electricity required for the heating element to generate power. Some batteries have a static voltage that only allows for one heating temperature, while other batteries have variable voltage settings, which give users more control over the temperature of their device. Cartridges do not come with batteries attached, so consumers will need to purchase this component separately. Any 510 thread battery will work with any 510 thread cartridge regardless of brand.
Can You Refill A 510 Cartridge?
Most of the 510 vape cartridges found in dispensaries are designed as single-use products. They come prefilled with a particular cannabis extract, and when the cannabis extract has completely vaporized, the cartridge itself can simply go in the garbage. However, some of these disposable cartridges can be taken apart, cleaned, and refilled with new extract.
Additionally, some manufacturers offer cartridges intended for multiple uses. Unlike disposable carts, refillable 510 cartridges don’t come pre-filled, so consumers will need to purchase the cannabis extract separately.
Keep in mind that cartridges can only be used so many times before the heating element begins to fail. Ceramic 510 cartridges last significantly longer than metal varieties, but they don’t last indefinitely.
How To Refill A 510 Cartridge
The process of refilling a 510 cartridge is a sometimes messy endeavor, but it can be accomplished in three steps:
- Remove The Mouthpiece: With a refillable cartridge and certain brands of disposable carts, the mouthpiece can twist off, giving users access to the tank and allowing them to refill the cart. Do not use too much force when removing the mouthpiece, or you may damage the hardware.
- Fill The Cartridge: Once the mouthpiece has been removed, you can begin to refill the cartridge. Using a syringe loaded with your desired extract, slowly release the liquid into the cartridge’s tank, being very careful not to overfill or get liquid into the central chamber.
- Reattach The Mouthpiece: Now that the cartridge has been refilled, gently screw the mouthpiece back onto the cartridge, taking care not to use too much force.
Benefits Of Refillable Cartridges
Refillable cartridges offer benefits to both the consumer and the environment.
Since users of disposable cartridges simply throw away the hardware once the concentrate has completely depleted, these cartridges wind up sitting in landfills and creating more pollution. Refillable cartridges give consumers more use out of a single piece of hardware, which can help reduce the amount of waste created by the vape industry.
Refillable cartridges also offer a financial benefit to consumers. Exclusively purchasing disposable cartridges means that consumers will have to pay for the hardware every single time they need to refill cannabis oil. This extra cost can start to add up substantially over time—especially if the consumer is a heavy vaper going through multiple cartridges a week.
Cons Of Refillable Cartridges
Perhaps the most significant appeal of vape cartridges is their promise of convenience. Instead of dealing with grinding flower, setting up a dab rig, or rolling a joint, consumers can simply attach a cartridge to a battery and instantly start enjoying the product. While edibles offer similar levels of convenience, their decreased bioavailability, long onset times, and often unpredictable effects are turn offs to consumers.
Refillable cartridges force consumers to sacrifice this convenience. The refilling process can be messy and arduous. It also requires consumers to purchase certain accoutrements such as syringes.
While refillable carts are more economical in the long run, they do have more upfront costs than disposable alternatives. Since refillable cartridges don’t come pre-filled, consumers will need to purchase a battery, the cannabis vape extract, and a battery before they can begin using the product.
Additionally, it’s worth noting that refillable cartridges aren’t a permanent solution and still produce waste. Metal coils and cotton wicks begin to fail after multiple refills, compromising taste and producing foul-tasting dry hits. While the best refillable 510 cartridges, which are made from sturdy, heat-resistant ceramic, last significantly longer than conventional metal coils with cotton wicks, they still have a finite lifespan.
Benefits Of Dab Pens
Dab pens are an alternative to 510 oil cartridges. These vape devices are meant to provide a more portable version of a conventional dab rig. Consumers add cannabis concentrates directly into the device’s oven each time they want to take a hit.
Dab pens allow users to vape more viscous cannabis concentrates like wax or shatter and give users more control over their experience.
With proper care and maintenance, high-quality dab pens can last years, producing substantially less waste than both refillable and disposable cartridges. Not only does this make dab pens more eco-friendly, but they’re also more economical in the long run.
Cons Of Dab Pens
Dab pens are considered the least convenient and user-friendly of all the portable vaporizer options. With a 510 oil cartridge and pen battery, users can easily pull their device from their pocket or bag and discreetly take a hit wherever they are.
However, with dab pens, users will first need to open their device, then open their dab container, use a dab tool to break off a piece of the concentrate, place it in the device’s oven, and finally reseal the pen just to take a single hit. This process limits when and where users can enjoy their dab pens.
Additionally, dab pens require constant cleaning and maintenance to upkeep the device. The added steps of breaking your device apart and carefully cleaning it using small tools and isopropyl alcohol make dab pens less appealing to consumers than cartridges.
While dab pens may be more economical in the long run, they also have some of the highest upfront costs of any portable vaporizer option. High-quality dab pens can cost over $200, and that’s not including the costs of the actual cannabis concentrates.
Benefits Of Disposable Cartridges
Disposable cartridges are the king of convenience in the cannabis world. They’re extremely easy to use, and even a novice vapor can effectively utilize a disposable 510 cartridge. They require no cleaning, no maintenance, and when the vape oil runs out, consumers simply purchase a new cartridge and toss the old one in the garbage.
This means that users won’t have to buy syringes or go through the lengthy and messy cartridge refilling process. And, because users don’t have to fuss with loading each hit like with a dab pen, they can discreetly enjoy disposable vape cartridges almost anywhere.
Disposable cartridges also tend to have cheaper upfront costs than refillable carts or dab pens, making them appealing to a more extensive customer base.
Cons Of Disposable Cartridges
While disposable cartridges are the most convenient option out there, they also produce the most waste and therefore have the most significant environmental impact. Refillable 510 cartridges and dab pens both do a better job of mitigating the ecological effects of the cannabis and vape industries.
Disposable cartridges also create more long-term costs. While it might not make a big difference to the occasional vaper, frequently purchasing disposable carts will cost more money than buying vape oil and using refillable cartridges.
Modern innovations in vaporizer technology have given consumers multiple different methods to consume cannabis extracts and concentrates. Each option comes with its own unique pros and cons.
Disposable cartridges offer superior convenience compared to other options but may have more long-term costs and a bigger environmental impact. Dab pens are the most eco-friendly portable vaporizer solution but are the least convenient to use. Refillable cartridges can slightly mitigate the extra costs and pollution associated with disposable carts, but the refilling process can be quite tedious and messy.
Ultimately, neither option is objectively better than the other, and it comes down to personal preference. Dedicated vapers may want to consider buying multiple devices to use in different situations.