Millions of vapes could be dumped before UK ban as retailers ‘fail to recycle’ | Vaping

A quarter of a billion disposable vapes could be dumped before a ban comes in next year as most retailers are not fulfilling their legal duty to help consumers recycle them, according to new research.

The not-for-profit organisation Material Focus, which conducted the research, found that more than nine out of 10 vape producers and retailers seemed not to provide or pay for the return and recycling of single-use e-cigarettes.

High street brands and convenience stores were among the worst offenders, providing few or no recycling drop-off points, according to Material Focus.

The not-for-profit went into more than 700 retail stores looking for drop-off-points or asking if they could get their vape recycled, after seeing the products advertised for sale. Even though some say that they run takeback schemes shoppers were told that they could not take the products when they asked.

Material Focus said single-use e-cigarettes were one of the “most environmentally wasteful, damaging and dangerous consumer products ever made”. They estimate that more than 250m vapes will be thrown away before the forthcoming ban on single-use vapes, due to be implemented in 2025.

Scott Butler, executive director of Material Focus, said: “The environmental responsibilities of vape producers and retailers are very clear. Any company 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.

“It is shocking that there has been so little progress since last year. As sales and profits have boomed, the environmental impacts and costs of collecting and recycling waste vapes have been disregarded.”

Sales of disposable single-use vapes in the UK are now at least 360m per year – the equivalent of providing lithium for the batteries of more than 6,700 electric vehicles. The cost of recycling all the single-use vapes bought in the UK could be up to £200m per annum.

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Disposable single-use vapes have a wide range of environmental impacts. They also contain some of the most precious materials on our planet, such as lithium and copper, which are lost for ever when thrown away.

Each single-use device contains on average 0.15g of lithium and according to GAP Group, an electricals recycling company, on average 50cm or 1.9g of copper cable. Vapes, as they contain lithium, also present a fire risk if not disposed of correctly – more than 700 fires are caused by the incorrect disposal of electricals containing hidden batteries, including vapes.

Material Focus conducted research among 764 retailers in 13 cities across the UK who sell vapes. They say that, despite legal obligations being in place since 2021, only 86 stores (11%) provided recycling points.

The analysis, which examined the company records of more than 165 of the most significant vape and vape juice producers in the UK, identified that only 15 had registered to comply with environmental regulations for producer responsibility for waste electricals, portable batteries and packaging.

However, all of the companies identified in Material Focus’s analysis had become members of a vape industry trade association such as the UKVIA or IBVTA and also registered their products with the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency.

The companies identified have not registered with UK environment agencies for various regulations that mandate they contribute to the costs of recycling of the products and packaging they sell when they reach their end of life.

Companies must register as a producer each year depending on how many electricals they sell. If they sell less than 5 tonnes a year, they must sign up with their environmental regulator as a small producer; more than that and they must pay to join a producer compliance scheme.

At the end of 2022, Material Focus produced a briefing paper that set out the environmental responsibilities of vape producers and retailers, which has been widely shared across the industry.

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