Ban disposable vapes to prevent plastic and battery waste mountain, UK Ministers urged

A coalition of 18 groups advocating on environmental and public health issues, spearheaded by Green Alliance, are calling on the UK Government to address the nation’s fastest-growing waste stream – disposable vapes.

Ban disposable vapes to prevent plastic and battery waste mountain, UK Ministers urged

Single-use vapes are now the UK's fastest-growing waste stream

In a letter sent to Environment Secretary Therese Coffey and Health Secretary Steve Barclay on Thursday (24 November), the groups reiterate previous research from Material Focus proving that at least 1.3 million disposable vapes are thrown away in the UK every week – the equivalent of two vapes per second.

These products contain a mix of single-use plastic, lithium-ion batteries and nicotine. This means they have the potential to harm the environment and wildlife when littered – but they are believed to be commonly littered and landfilled as they are challenging to recycle. The Lancet this year called disposable vapes “a new threat” to the environment due to littering.

The letter emphasises that, if all the lithium used in disposable vapes in the UK each year were redirected to the electric vehicle (EV) industry, it would be equivalent to the amount used in 1,200 electric cars or vans. “Lithium is a critical material for our green transition and is simply going to waste in these devices,” the letter states.

The letter pre-empts the fact that Ministers may try to justify the sale of disposable vapes by citing the Government’s vision of achieving a smoke-free generation by 2030. Efforts have already been made to curb cigarette smoking, such as ending the sale of five and ten-packs and menthols, and placing larger packs in unbranded packaging with health warnings. Reusable vapes are already “available and accessible”, the letter argues.

Another issue with disposable vapes being even more accessible, aside from the fact that consumers may not place value on them enough to prevent littering and binning, is their appeal to young people. The letter cites previous research concluding that there has been more than a seven-fold increase in the proportion of 11 to 17-year-olds in the UK using disposable vapes since 2021. This year, that research found, 7% of those in this age group are regular vape users and 52% use disposable options.

To that end, the letter is signed by groups representing public health causes and youth as well as groups advocating on environmental issues. “ Decisive action from the UK government now could prevent this emerging environmental problem from becoming a major issue, and head off a health crisis among young people,” the letter states.

Signing the letter are Green Alliance, Greener Practice UK, the Environmental Investigation Afency, Keep Scotland Beautiful, Less Waste Laura, the Marine Conservation Society (MCS), the RSPCA, Surfers Against Sewage, Wildlife and Countryside Link, Whale and Dolphin Conservation, ASH Scotland, Bin Twinning, the Centre for Sustainable Healthcare, Techbuyer and the Restart Project. Also signing are Professor Andrew Bush, of Imperial College London’s paediatrics team, and Dr Mike McKean, the vice president for health policy at the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health.

The MCS’s director of programmes Chris Tuckett said: “Unfortunately, our beach clean volunteers have started to see single-use vapes littered on our beaches around the UK. These products are made up of lots of different materials, which are rarely recycled, and pose a threat to marine life when littered. We must shift away from single-use products, and therefore we fully support a ban on single-use vapes.”

Material Focus, the organisation responsible for the initial revelation that 1.3 million vapes are thrown away each week in the UK back in July, is calling on brands producing single-use vapes to stop marketing them as disposable and instead work to make recycling infrastructure better.

Scott Butler, the not-for-profit’s executive director, said: “It’s a huge waste that the resources contained in vapes alongside any electrical with a plug, battery or cable are too easily being thrown away in such volumes when instead they could be recycled and help power the green economy.”

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