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Five million vapes thrown away a week, campaign group says

The number of disposable vapes thrown away has quadrupled to five million per week over the past year, according to research from a recycling campaign group.

More than seven million single-use vapes are bought every week in the UK – double the amount bought in 2022.

However, only 17% of people correctly recycle their vapes in a shop or local recycling centre, Material Focus said.

Disposable vapes come in sweet and fruity flavours like pink lemonade, gummy bear and watermelon.

Vapes, also known as E-cigarettes, are toxic and can be damaging to the environment and wildlife if littered.

When not disposed of correctly, they can also cause fires because of the batteries hidden inside them.

Scott Butler, executive director of Material Focus, a non-profit organisation which campaigns to increase recycling rates, said the problem of single-use vapes has got “out of control”.

Research carried out by the organisation found 73% of UK vapers say they throw away single-use vapes, with 33% of 16 to 18-year-old vapers admitting to disposing of their vapes in a bin at their place of education or work.

Five million vapes disposed of per week is equivalent to eight per second, Material Focus said, a sharp rise from the 1.3 million thrown away in 2022.

Vapes and other electrical items should never be put in a regular bin and need to be deposited in dedicated bins so they can be disposed of safely and properly.

Material Focus believes all supermarkets, high street convenience stores, petrol stations and specialist vape stores should be taking back old single-use vapes when new ones are purchased.

“Very few producers and retailers comply with environmental regulations and haven’t put recycling drop-off points and systems in place,” Mr Butler said.

“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,” he continued.

“Vapes, like any other electrical with a plug, battery or cable, should never be binned and always be recycled as a minimum.”

According to the group’s research, 76% of vapers say they would be more likely to recycle if vapes were marketed as “recyclable”.

More than half (54%) of vapers said they would be more likely to recycle them if there were recycling points in stores and 40% of 16 to 18-year-old vapers said they would be more likely to recycle if there were recycling points in their place of education or work.

Mr Butler added: “We need 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.

“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.”

The UK Vaping Industry Association said the industry would be working to “educate customers about how to dispose of their single-use devices and other vapes in an environmentally responsible way”.

The statement continued: “We have always acknowledged the environmental challenge posed by single-use vapes.

“We welcome the solutions put forward by Material Focus and are leading industry action in a number of these areas and more.

“Education of consumers about how to recycle single-use vapes; product innovations that enhance recycling rates; compliance with the current regulations; and investment in waste collection points at point of use, and not just at point of sale, are all critical in reducing the environmental impact of single-use vapes.

“We must protect the environment while also recognising the contribution disposable vapes have made in helping adult smokers start on their quit journeys, in turn helping to achieve the Government’s 2030 smoke-free ambition.”

Earlier this month, the Office for National Statistics found 5.2% of people used e-cigarettes daily in 2022, up from 4.9% in 2021, with a further 3.5% reporting occasional vape use, up from 2.8%.

In Scotland, First Minister Humza Yousaf has promised a consultation on banning the sale of single-use vapes.

He said: “The Government will consult on curbing the sale of disposable vapes, including consulting on an outright ban.”

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