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Home News Number of disposable vapes thrown away a week quadruples to 5 million

Number of disposable vapes thrown away a week quadruples to 5 million

September 8, 2023

Photo: iStock

The number of disposable single-use vapes thrown away has soared from 1.3 million to nearly 5 million per week, latest research from Material Focus has revealed.

This is equivalent to 8 per second being thrown away – almost four times the number since the research was first conducted last year, the not-for-profit said.

The potential yearly cost of collecting and recycling these vapes according to Material Focus research now stands at £200 million.

The research, conducted by YouGov with calculations from Material Focus, surveyed UK adults and for the first time this year 16-17 year olds to identify how many single-use vapes are being bought in the UK and their methods of disposal. The research also explored the preferred recycling solutions for vapes.

The research has found that UK adults report buying over 360 million single-use vapes per annum, containing valuable and critical materials such as lithium and copper that are regularlylitte being binned that could instead be powering nearly 5,000 electric vehicles.

The number of battery related waste fires continues to rise, some of which are considered to have been sparked by vapes being thrown away instead of being recycled. Last year Material Focus conducted research that identified that 700 fires are caused by batteries hidden inside electricals such as vapes in the waste stream.

“Since we last published our research the problem with single-use vapes has gotten further out of control,” Scott Butler, executive director at Material Focus, commented.

“Single-use vapes are a strong contender for being the most environmentally wasteful, damaging and dangerous consumer product ever made. And still very few producers and retailers comply with environmental regulations and haven’t put recycling drop-off points and systems in place. This all means that too often local authorities are being burdened with the major operational and financial headaches associated with what is now the fastest growing and most dangerous waste stream in the UK, single-use vapes.”

The research also found that:

  • Over 30 million single-use vapes are bought per month by UK adults 16+ (double compared to Material Focus research conducted of adults 18+ in 2022)
  • Only 17% of people who buy vapes say that they recycle single-use vapes in a shop or local recycling centre
  • Nearly 3 million single-use vapes a month are being hoarded in UK cupboards
  • 73% of UK vapers say they throw away single-use vapes
  • 1% of UK vapers say they flush single-use vapes down the toilet
  • 3% of UK vapers say they drop single-use vapes on the ground (8% by 16-18 year olds)
  • 33% of 16-18 year- olds vapers throw single-use vapes away in the bin at their place of education or work
  • 33% of 16-18 years olds keep old single-use vapes stored in a cupboard at home (compared to 14% average)
  • The main reason that 16-18 tends to throw away/ drop/ flush their vapes is because they don’t want the people they live with to know they vape – 31% compared to 8% of the population

“Vapes, like any other electrical with a plug, battery or cable, should never be binned and always be recycled as a minimum,” Butler noted, calling for rapid growth in the number of accessible and visible vape recycling drop-off points.

“And we need proper financing of genuine recycling solutions to recover materials and manage fire risks. The solution is clear: immediate, significant and transparent vape industry voluntary action in advance of planned regulatory changes already earmarked by Defra,” he added.

“The UK needs more accessible recycling drop-off points in stores, in parks, in public spaces near offices, bars and pubs, and in schools, colleges and universities. With 75 per cent of vapers thinking that producers and retailers should provide more information that states that vapes can be recycled the word ‘disposable’ should no longer be used in any marketing and promotion.

“Until single-use vape producers, importers and retailers act to genuinely comply with and finance their legal environmental responsibilities then the calls for banning the sale of them will only strengthen.”

Material Focus has recommended a package of solutions to solve the problem:

  • Immediate, significant and transparent vape industry voluntary action on a comprehensive and widely accessible take-back and recycling solution alongside a major communications campaign to raise public awareness
  • More information displayed on vapes on how they can be recycled – 70% of people threw their single-use vapes away because they didn’t know they could recycle them
  • More recycling points for vapes in stores, parks, public places and schools and colleges

Material Focus has produced a briefing note for retailers and producers on how they can comply with environmental regulations for vapes.