ASA firms up anti-greenwashing rules for recycling, bans single-use vape ad

Material Focus estimates that at least 1.3 million disposable vapes are thrown away in the UK every week. Stock image.

The Agency has also, in tandem with making this ruling about Elf Bar’s adverts, published new guidance on recycling-related claims from brands.

Elf Bar was ordered by the ASA on Wednesday (29 November) to ensure that it removes and does not repeat an advertisement first seen on buses and digital billboards in London this summer. The Agency made this ruling following ten complaints, including one from campaign group AdFree Cities.

The offending advert carried images of a new line of single-use e-cigarettes along with the taglines “Green Awareness” and “Recycling for a Greener Future”. A recycling symbol was also used.

Complaints about the advert highlighted that there are currently only limited recycling options for single-use vapes in the UK. They are not collected from households and while some brands run take-back schemes, vape sales are far outpacing the growth of take-back schemes and recycling capacity.

Elf Bar stated that its intention was to raise awareness that vapes can be recycled if the right options are chosen. The company argued that viewers would not interpret the advertisements as an offer of a new recycling service, nor would they understand it as an absolute claim about the overall environmental impact of its products.

Elf Bar further stated that the “Green Awareness” and “Recycling for a Greener Future” taglines had been applied to its general work on recycling, including the addition of recycling bins to more than 70 British vape shops since the start of October 2023. Elf Bar is aiming to scale this scheme into a larger, closed-loop recycling system by 2025.

The ASA ruled that, in the absence of any information on how Elf Bars could be recycled, most shoppers would see the advert and assume they could recycle them easily – including at home.

The Agency pointed to previous research from Material Focus stating that 70% of vape users throw their devices away as they are unsure of routes to recycling.

Overall, the ASA’s opinion is that the advert gave an “inaccurate impression that the products were fully recyclable”.

Disposal claims guidance

The ruling on the Elf Bar ads was provided along with a general set of findings from the ASA’s consumer research into claims relating to product recyclability.

Claims relating to the kind of materials which products and packaging contained, including recycled and biodegradable content, were also in the scope of this research.

The ASA has stated that claims are less likely to amount to greenwashing if they include:

  • Which parts of a product the claim relates to.
  • Information about the disposal process, if that is likely to differ from the average consumer’s expectations.
  • Information about how long it takes for a product to fully biodegrade or compost, if that is likely to differ from the average consumer’s expectations.
  • Information about harmful by-products which are produced during the disposal process.

Full research findings can be found here.

The ASA further announced that, in January 2024, it will begin monitoring adverts and on-pack claims for greenwashing related to waste management more intently. This may result in additional enforcement measures.

Read all of edie’s content relating to greenwashing here.

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