March 10, 2023
Over 90% of the smaller vape and e-liquid producers in the UK seem to be failing to comply with environmental regulations, a new study has shown.
The analysis conducted by Material Focus, the not for profit leading the ‘Recycle Your Electricals’ campaign, has also indicated that the larger vape producers and importers, who have only recently registered, are not covering the true costs of collection and recycling as vapes are falling under normal small electricals rather than their own special category.
Sales of disposable single-use vapes are now around 138 million per annum with millions of them thrown away every week. Last year Material Focus research identified that at least 1.3 million disposable vapes are littered and binned each week.
Vapes contain a range of precious materials, including lithium and copper, which when thrown away the materials are lost forever.
The analysis, which examined the company records of over 150 of the most significant vape and vape juice producers in the UK, identified that only 16 had registered to comply with environmental regulations for producer responsibility for waste electricals, portable batteries, and packaging.
All of the companies that were identified via Material Focus’s analysis had registered their products with the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency (MHRA), but they have not registered with UK environment agencies for various environmental regulations which mandate that they contribute to the costs of recycling of the products and packaging they sell when they reach their end of life, the organisation said.
Companies must register as a producer annually, depending on how many electricals they sell. Less than 5 tonnes per year companies are required to register with their environmental regulator as a small producer, or – for more than 5 tonnes per year – pay to join a Producer Compliance Scheme (PCS) who will take on the companies obligations to finance the collection, treatment, recovering and disposal of WEEE.
Material Focus analysis has also identified that if all of the 138 million disposable single-use vapes that are bought in the UK per annum were financed to be recycled, this would cost the producers up to £69 million per annum.
“The environmental responsibilities of vape producers are very clear. Any company that is producing significant quantities of electrical items is required to register, report their sales and finance the cost of their product being recycled. Retailers are also responsible for ensuring that it’s easy for their customers to recycle these products by providing recycling drop off points in their stores,” Scott Butler, executive director of Material Focus, said.
“It is shocking that it seems that the majority of the smaller vape producers in the UK aren’t complying with these long-standing environmental regulations. And for those larger producers that have only recently registered, they need to bear the full costs of collecting and recycling these complex to recycle products which may mean paying significantly higher fees than they are currently paying. As sales and profits have boomed the environmental impacts and costs of collecting and recycling waste vapes have been disregarded.”
Material Focus called on the vape consumers to put pressure on retailers to make it possible for them to drop off their vapes in store.
“Vape producers, importers and retailers need to be held to account, and step up to the plate by making sure that we do not lose the precious materials contained inside these vapes. Anything with a plug, battery or cable can be recycled. To find your nearest recycling point please search ‘recycle your electricals’, and you will find many household recycling centres will receive vapes and all your other old electricals to be recycled,” Butler added.
Each disposable single-use contains on average 0.15g of lithium and according to GAP Group (electricals recycling company) on average 50 cms or 1.9g of copper cable. Vapes as they contain lithium also present a fire risk if they are disposed of incorrectly – over 700 fires are caused by the incorrect disposal of electricals, with hidden batteries, including vapes.
According to calculations produced by Material Focus and Financial Times based upon data from EuroMonitor and ECigIntelligence for all the disposable single-use vapes sold in the UK this would be equivalent to providing the batteries for over 2,500 electric car batteries in the UK. The amount of copper contained inside a disposable vape, would provide enough copper to power over 370,000 home EV charging stations.