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Have you ever noticed how popular disposable vapes are in the UK? If you have, we’ve got some interesting figures for you!

Vaping is a pretty big habit in the UK. In 2023, it was estimated that 4.5 million adults, or 8.7%, said they currently use an e-cigarette daily or occasionally. On top of that, this figure grew from 7.7% in 2021. Having said this, it’s easy to see that e-cigarette consumption and vaping have been growing trends in recent years, but so have our concerns! Both the Government and the public have expressed worry over their popularity coming at a cost to both our environment and our health, with our youth’s well-being having a particular focus.

How bad are disposable vapes?

Believe it or not, the UK goes through 5 million disposable vapes a week, according to a study by Material Focus. There’s a pretty big issue with this – They’re not widely recycled. Studies suggest that only 17% of vapers recycle their disposable vapes in the correct bins; it is a particularly concerning figure when you consider what happens when they’re tossed away. As they degrade over time, they leach plastic, battery components, and nicotine into the environment. Over a year, this is equivalent to the lithium batteries of 5,000 electric vehicles. This makes it clear that it is a no-brainer to avoid them for the good of our planet.

But wait, there’s more! The affordability and fruity flavours of disposable vapes have made them quite popular with our nation’s youths. In 2023, 20.5% of children aged between 11 and 17 years old had tried vaping, up from 15.8% in 2022 and 13.9% in 2020. On top of that, since 2021, the proportion of current vaping has been greater than that of current smoking among them (7.6% in 2023 compared to 3.6% in 2021). These figures show that kids don’t find cigarettes cool anymore, and not in a good way. This just means that disposable vapes are the most prevalent form of underage nicotine addiction.

What’s being done about this? As a result, the UK government has announced ambitious plans to tackle disposable vapes. In this piece, we will discuss this announcement, how the government has previously tackled the issue, what this means for recycling and the environment, and how Bywaters can help.

Are vapes being banned?

In the announcement, the UK government set their most ambitious plan yet to tackle vaping and tobacco products.

The UK government announced that they are banning disposable vapes altogether. From Elf Bars to Lost Marys, disposable vapes will no longer be sold in shops. The main reason cited for this is the rise in vaping among our youths. The government also reiterated how vapes should only be used by adults as a tool to quit smoking.

The Government has been keeping an eye on this trend for a while now. A 2014 government report concluded with the need to acknowledge electronic cigarettes within comprehensive tobacco control policies. This report shows the government’s cautious stance towards their potential even before they became so widespread.

Interestingly, the UK government outlined other measures aside from their ‘vape ban’, which also have potentially huge benefits to both the public’s health and our environment.

UK Bans disposable vapes (and more)

The new set of regulations will also make it illegal to sell tobacco products to anyone born on or after 1 January 2009, as part of the Prime Minister’s pledge to create a smokefree generation.

Furthermore, the new powers would restrict vape flavours and introduce plain packaging to avoid appealing to children.

Government vape schemes

Disposable vapes will be banned, but it’s not the same for refillable e-cigarettes. The government’s Swap to Stop scheme is designed to help cigarette smokers stub out smoking by offering vape kits and behavioural support to help them stub out the habit. Aligning with their general stance to strictly only incentivise the use of e-cigarettes as a means to combat smoking.

The impact of vaping on recycling and the environment

The disposable vape ban is excellent news for the environment and the waste management industry. It also highlights the need to ensure the recyclability of any product before it is introduced to the market. Recycling vapes is often a tricky matter.

Firstly, they are complicated to recycle for your everyday site. They are literally a jumble of plastics, metals, and a lithium battery, all glued together. Separating these for individual recycling plants is expensive and impractical. They also come in different shapes, sizes and internal compositions to complicate the matter. The lack of effective infrastructure at most sites paints a pretty bleak picture, considering that we bin around 5 million of them a week.

In relation to this, Bywaters collected a staggering 129 kg of disposable vapes during a recent 2-day festival! 129 kg in 2 days… Can you believe that? As a sidenote, we wrote a report analysing London’s waste over a 12 month period to find out what it says about London, including its habits relating to disposable vapes. Click here to find out more!

Furthermore, vapes and batteries can cause fires at recycling plants if they are not disposed of in the correct waste stream and not detected correctly while they are being processed at recycling sites. According to Material Focus, over 700 fires in waste trucks and sites have been caused by misplaced batteries or vapes. So it is needless to say that the Government’s announcement is a major benefit to both the environment and recycling.

Vape collections? We’ve got you covered!

Do you have a bunch of vapes that you’re interested in disposing of responsibly, Bywaters has got you covered and more! Bywaters offers vape collections, as well as comprehensive services to help you and your building improve your sustainability. Our sustainability experts provide in-depth consultations for facilities regardless of waste stream and industry. Click here to enquire now.


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