UK Vape Recycling: Retailers Fail to Recycle Millions

UK vape recycling

A recent study by the not-for-profit organization Material Focus has revealed that a staggering quarter of a billion disposable vapes could end up in landfills before the UK’s upcoming ban on single-use e-cigarettes in 2025. The research exposes a shocking lack of compliance among vape producers and retailers in fulfilling their legal obligation to facilitate the return and recycling of these devices.

Material Focus conducted an extensive investigation, visiting over 700 retail stores across the UK to assess the availability of recycling drop-off points for single-use vapes. The findings revealed that high street brands and convenience stores were among the worst offenders, with few to no recycling options available for consumers. Despite some retailers claiming to run takeback schemes, shoppers were often told that they could not return the products when they inquired.

Scott Butler, executive director of Material Focus, described single-use e-cigarettes as “one of the most environmentally wasteful, damaging and dangerous consumer products ever made.” The organization estimates that more than 250 million vapes will be discarded before the ban takes effect, highlighting the urgent need for action.

Disposable vapes contain precious materials such as lithium and copper, which are lost forever when the devices are thrown away. Each single-use vape contains an average of 0.15g of lithium and 1.9g of copper cable, according to GAP Group, an electricals recycling company. The improper disposal of these devices not only squanders valuable resources but also presents a fire risk, with more than 700 fires caused by the incorrect disposal of electricals containing hidden batteries, including vapes.

Material Focus’s research also revealed a concerning lack of compliance among vape producers and retailers regarding environmental regulations. Out of the 165 most significant vape and vape juice producers in the UK, only 15 had registered to comply with producer responsibility regulations for waste electricals, portable batteries, and packaging.

Surprisingly, all of the companies identified in the analysis had become members of vape industry trade associations and registered their products with the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency. However, they failed to register with UK environment agencies for various regulations that mandate their contribution to the recycling costs of the products and packaging they sell.

The cost of recycling all the single-use vapes bought in the UK could reach up to £200 million per annum. Material Focus emphasizes that as sales and profits have soared, the environmental impacts and costs of collecting and recycling waste vapes have been largely disregarded by the industry.

At the end of 2022, Material Focus produced a briefing paper outlining the environmental responsibilities of vape producers and retailers, which has been widely shared across the industry. However, the recent findings indicate that little progress has been made since then, highlighting the urgent need for industry action and increased awareness among consumers.

As the UK moves closer to the 2025 ban on single-use vapes, it is crucial for retailers and producers to take immediate action in providing accessible recycling options and complying with environmental regulations. Failure to do so will result in millions of devices ending up in landfills, contributing to a growing environmental crisis.

Matthew Ma