Number Of Discarded Single Use Vapes Hits 5 million A Week
Set Of Multicolor Disposable Electronic Cigarettes On A Red Back

The non-profit organisation Material Focus has shared its latest research, which reveals that an astonishing five million single-use vapes are being discarded each week in the UK. This represents a fourfold increase on the volume thrown away in 2022. 

Disposable vapes contain valuable non-renewable materials including lithium, which is used to make electric vehicle batteries. The amount of lithium currently being thrown away in vapes each year in the UK is enough to power 5,000 electric vehicle batteries. 

Besides the waste of valuable resources, vapes that are not disposed of correctly are a fire hazard, because lithium batteries can be flammable when crushed in bin lorries or at materials recovery facilities. Disposable vapes are technically recyclable, but in reality there are very few recycling points and limited awareness of how to do it.

The term ‘disposable vapes’ itself is highly misleading, because it leads to the assumption that it is OK to throw them away rather than take them to a recycling facility. The research found that only 17% of vape users said that they recycled single-use vapes. There are calls for clear warnings on the label that vapes must be recycled rather than thrown in the bin.

The manufacturers and retailers of vapes are required to provide recycling drop-off points, but in many cases the regulations are not being complied with. Materials Focus calls for a rapid escalation of drop-off points at colleges, shopping centres, bars, and other public places. 

Teenagers recycled the least, and were more likely to throw the vapes on the ground or in general waste bins, or even flush them down the toilet. The main reason for this was an attempt to disguise their vaping habit from people that they lived with. 

Scott Butler, Executive Director, Material Focus commented on the latest research: “Since we last published our research the problem with single-use vapes has gotten further out of control. Single-use vapes  are a strong contender for being the most environmentally wasteful, damaging and dangerous consumer product ever made.”

He added: “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.”

Some campaigners are calling for an outright ban on the sale of single-use vapes in the UK, either on health or environmental grounds, or both. The products are often deliberately marketed at children with bright colours and sweet flavours, and there are concerns of a vaping epidemic amongst children. 

Although vapes are less harmful to health than tobacco cigarettes, they still contain a high volume of chemicals and particles that are inhaled into the body, and the long-term consequences of vaping are still unknown. 

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