A joint investigation by Sky News and the Bureau of Investigative Press has found a boom in sales of disposable vaporizers that has left millions of people stranded in landfills, despite containing valuable lithium, metal on which much of the high-tech economy depends.
Available in a variety of colors and flavours, the uncomplicated and highly addictive pen-sized devices are the UK’s fastest growing smoking alternative, surpassing refillable vapes for the first time reuse and other reuse this year.
Our research shows UK users are throwing away around two disposable vapes every second.
The battery in the average disposable vape contains less than one-tenth of a gram of lithium metal. But it adds up.
Discarded disposable gas accounts for about 10 tonnes of lithium that ends up in landfills or incinerators each year – enough to produce batteries for 1,200 electric cars.
‘It’s really madness’
Mark Miodownik, professor of materials and society at University College London, said: “We can’t just throw these materials away, which is really crazy in a climate emergency.
“It’s in your laptop, it’s in your cell phone, it’s in your electric car. This is a material that we’ve completely relied on to transition away from fossil fuels and tackle fossil fuels. climate problems.”
Market research by Opinium for Material Focus, a nonprofit recycling organization, found that 18% of 4,000 people surveyed had purchased a vape in the previous year. Of those, 7% said they bought disposable devices. This shows that around 168 million disposable vapes are being bought every year in the UK.
Just over half of users said they threw their vapes in the bin when it ran out, rather than tossing them in a waste electric recycling bin or returning it to a retailer.
“From manufacturers to us as consumers, we need to be more mindful in the decisions we make, products,” said Scott Butler, chief executive officer of Material Focus. that we make and the products we buy”.
“It needs to be made significantly easier for more people to do the right thing, because most people want to do the right thing.”
Are the UK’s top pocket vape brands enough?
But our investigation shows that disposable vape manufacturers may not even meet the minimum obligations to recycle their products.
The country’s two top disposable vape brands are Elf Bar and Geek Bar.
Under UK law, products are classified as waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE). Manufacturers or importers of products classified as WEEE have certain regulatory responsibilities to ensure they are recycled, including self-registration.
Our investigation found no evidence that the Geek Bar or Elf Bar manufacturer or importer was listed in the WEEE register. None of them responded to our request for comment.
We forward the results of our investigations to the Environment Agency, which is responsible for enforcing WEEE regulations.
In a response, it told us: “Businesses selling electrical or electronic equipment on the UK market are required to comply with WEEE regulations. Any business determined to be non-compliant. compliance with these regulations will be subject to an appropriate enforcement response.”
Disposable sprays are just one product in a growing mountain of electrical and electronic waste that is not being recycled. Previous research by Material Focus estimated that there is around 500 million pieces of electrical waste in UK homes. The amount of valuable metals such as copper, gold and lithium being hoarded or buried could be worth £370 million to the UK economy each year.
Defra is conducting a review of how to improve the collection and recycling of what it defines as “small mixed waste, electrical and electronic equipment” later this year.
If you have wasteful electrical appliances or products that contain batteries and you’re not sure where you can recycle them, you can learn more here.
You can find the Bureau of Investigative Press here.