There has been a rapid increase in the popularity of vaping, or the use of e-cigarette products over the past decade. There are now estimated to be around 4.3 regular vapers in the UK, which has led to a major recycling and disposal issue.
This is because vape pens designed for single use contain valuable materials such as copper and lithium ion batteries, and should be disposed of at household recycling facilities or returned to the vendor. However, in reality many products are discarded in general waste bins or thrown as litter on the ground.
It is estimated that 1.3 million vape pens are thrown away each year. They can be recycled, and are classified as waste electronic and electrical equipment (WEEE) alongside devices such as mobile phones and laptops. However, in reality they can be difficult to recycle and are prone to causing fires if the batteries are damaged.
The BBC reported last year that the explosion in popularity of vaping, alongside ignorance of what the products contain, is compounding the problem.
Ex-vaper Kate Matteson told the news organisation: “The disposable ones are just so readily available at the counter of every corner shop, right next to the chewing gum. It’s hard to make the jump from a £5 ready-to-go vape, to a £20+ reusable contraption that might leak and is more hassle.”
She added: “If the vape companies ran social media ads letting people know how to dispose of them, it would grab our attention.” Some users admitted that they weren’t even aware that disposable vape pens contained batteries.
While vaping can be a useful tool to help wean people off more addictive and harmful tobacco products, there is still comparatively little research into the long term health effects of inhaling the vapour, which can contain minute particles of toxic chemicals. Most vaping products do still contain nicotine, which is highly addictive.
Given that many vaping products are deliberately marketed at children with bright colours and appealing flavours, health experts fear that teenagers may be damaging their long term health and may be tempted to move on to smoking tobacco cigarettes.
The Guardian reports that the organisers of the Glastonbury Festival have urged people not to bring disposable vapes to the site, amid concerns that recycling plants are overwhelmed with the sheer volume of waste products and are struggling to get insurance because of the increased fire risk.
Campaigners are calling for manufacturers to make the recycling process easier, with clearer guidelines for both vendors and consumers. There are also calls for more widespread distribution of collection points for vape pens within stores.
The batteries in the cheaper vape products are non-rechargeable, but they still contain lithium, which is a finite resource and is used to manufacture rechargeable batteries.
The BBC reports that about 10 tonnes of lithium is being wasted in this manner each year, depleting the earth’s resources and reducing the amount available to create more environmentally friendly rechargeable battery powered vehicles.
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