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Government support called for as number of disposable vapes thrown away soars

September 9, 2023

Photo: iStock

Businesses sought urgent action from the government as a new study has revealed that the number of disposable single-use vapes thrown away has quadrupled in a year, from 1.3 million to nearly 5 million per week.

The research by non-profit Material Focus found that over 30 million single-use vapes are bought per month by UK adults (aged 16 and above), double compared to Material Focus research conducted of adults 18+ in 2022, but only 17 per cent of people who buy vapes say that they recycle single-use vapes in a shop or local recycling centre.

“Just because something is disposable, it doesn’t necessarily mean it can go in the bin,” Donald Macphail, chief operating officer, treatment at waste management company Veolia UK, said, commenting on the findings of the study.

“We need consumers to bring vapes and batteries back to designated return points so they can be safely treated and recycled to preserve the valuable lithium and plastic for new items. We also need vape producers to design vapes for recycling, they contain critical raw materials that we need for an electric future.”

Macphail added that the sector needs support from the government as the country is far from achieving the 55 per cent recycling target for vapes set by the Environment Agency.

“To increase this, we need to build a stronger policy and legislation position to encourage eco design and new recycling investment – and fast. We need to create a new individual EEE Product Category for vapes and ensure all manufacturers are signed up to the obligated producers list to properly implement the ‘producer pays’ model,” he said.

Leading public sector insurer Zurich Municipal has warned that hard-pressed council budgets are also being hit by the incorrect disposal of single use vapes.

“The alarming number of vapes thrown away every week in the UK isn’t just harming the environment – it’s hitting the public purse,” Alix Bedford, a risk expert at Zurich Municipal, said.

“Incorrectly disposed of vapes are sparking fires in council bin lorries and at waste processing sites, causing costly damage and disruption to waste management services, and putting workers’ lives at risk.”

Bedford called for the government to launch a national consumer campaign to raise awareness of the correct way to dispose of vapes, and other items powered by lithium batteries

“As the prevalence of lithium batteries grows, ministers should also explore a fully funded kerbside collection service for waste electricals, including vapes,” she added.

Freedom of Information data obtained by Zurich Municipal has shown that the number of bin lorries hit by blazes has leapt 62 per cent in the last two years. Fire crews in the UK were called to 125 fires in 2022, up from just 77 in 2020.

Alarmingly, the data shows house fires sparked by vapes have also more than doubled in two years from 59 in 2020 to 123 in 2022.

Research carried out by One Poll for Zurich Municipal in June has found that there is widespread consumer confusion over the correct way to dispose of spent vapes, with three out of four (72%) users unaware the devices cannot be binned in household waste or recycling.

Despite the potential fire hazards posed by vapes, three out of four (70%) users are unaware the devices contain lithium batteries.