From vapes to EVs: UK drawing up plans to clamp down on battery waste
The UK Government will propose reforms to electric vehicle (EV) battery regulations by the end of 2023, and is also developing plans to avoid battery pollution from disposable vapes.
Environment Minister Rebecca Pow announced the plans late last week alongside new interventions cracking down on waste food, furniture and textiles.
Batteries are a key focus because they contain valuable metals and rare earth elements that can be used to produce new technologies for the digital and low-carbon transition. Moreover, if they are not properly processed, they can leech chemicals into the environment, posing a risk to ecosystems and to human health.
Pow confirmed that the Government will publish proposals to reform battery regulations for EVs by the end of the year and will seek to implement the changes from 2025.
Reforms will include measures to encourage battery R&D in the UK, to help keep the UK competitive as EV battery markets in other nations advance. These reforms will be backed with more than £540m of additional funding for the Faraday Battery Challenge through to 2025.
They will also include new interventions to measure and reduce the environmental impact of batteries at different parts of their life-cycle, including the end of their working life.
EV battery recycling in the UK is still nascent but has received much Government and industry backing in the past. EV adoption has boomed in recent years, sparking concerns around a future waste mountain of batteries building up unless recycling is scaled.
Funding will be allocated to innovative recycling projects but also to the development of systems enabling batteries to be reused – in part or in full.
Another similar focus will be on projects enabling existing vehicles to be retrofitted to become electric.
The Government may, in time, bring forward new ecodesign requirements for batteries and for other vehicle parts. The Department for Energy Security and Net-Zero and Department for the Environment, Food and Rural Affairs will collaborate with each other and with industry and academia to explore this step.
The news comes shortly after Jaguar Land Rover ‘s (JLR) parent company Tata Group confirmed that it will be building a Gigafactory in the UK. The £4bn project should have a 40GW capacity for EV batteries once complete.
Spotlight on vapes
Material Focus estimates 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 last year called disposable vapes “a new threat” to the environment due to littering.
While some recycling capacity does exist in the UK, the market for vapes is booming and MPs are being called upon to intervene – potentially with bans – to prevent pollution. Refillable vapes are touted as an alternative to ensure that the Government still meets its targets to reduce tobacco use.
Minister Pow has confirmed that the Government will put forward measures for reforming the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Regulations before the year is out. Options to tackle waste from disposable vapes specifically will be included.
At the moment, the Government has not mentioned bans. It seems, instead, to be angling towards measures to make producers design products better and pay towards their recycling.
Some MPs are striving to ban disposable vapes through a separate piece of legislation, first introduced to the House of Commons this spring. The Commons is currently on Summer Recess, so the Bill will not be picked up again until September at the earliest.
Material Focus’s executive director Scott Butler told edie: “Binned and littered disposable single-use vapes are currently causing major environmental and fire damage across the UK. Meanwhile, producers, importers and retailers of disposable single-use vapes have been avoiding their clear legal and financial obligations around takeback and recycling.
“Strengthening the legislation to help deal with this avoidance is essential, but there is nothing to stop the vape industry from proactively trying to fix the issue in the meantime.”
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