The United Kingdom has a serious vaping problem.
Non-profit organization Material Focus has released research that suggests five million disposable vaping products are thrown away in the country every single week.
Furthermore, only 17% of vapers properly recycle the devices, leading to some significant problems.
In data published by the BBC, Material Focus has found that UK adults buy around 30 million disposable vapes a month, and the waste from these products often gets littered or disposed of incorrectly.
Disposable vape sellers are supposed to offer a service to take back the used vapes, but many are still not providing this option despite it being a law. Meanwhile, producers and importers aren’t helping, either.
“There’s far more vapes thrown on the floor, and in public bins and kitchen bins than are being recycled,” Material Focus executive director Scott Butler told the BBC, adding that current recycling facilities are “a long way from what we need.”
“It needs to be as easy to recycle as it is to buy them,” Butler told the outlet.
Why is this a problem?
The devices contain lithium batteries, which can be flammable if not recycled properly. Waste company Veolia told the BBC that items with these batteries cause about a fire a day at their facilities, and that’s not even to mention the damage they can cause in domestic or public bins.
Once finished with, they should be placed in dedicated bins that contain vermiculite, which minimizes the risk of combustion.
Vapes also contain material that is valuable if recycled but damaging to the planet if not.
Lithium and copper can be recycled again for use in other batteries, with Material Focus’s research suggesting that the lithium in disposable vapes that are thrown away each year could be enough to make 5,000 electric car batteries.
Then there’s the plastic. Plastic waste is already a problem because of the dirty-fuel heavy process that goes into creating it, the fact it doesn’t degrade naturally, and the harm it can cause to ecosystems if not disposed of correctly, with chemicals from the material potentially leaching out and contaminating soil and water supplies.
In all, disposable vapes are a menace to the environment.
One Redditor even got a flat tire when running over a metal disposable vape, and the lithium battery can cause tire rubber to burn if driven over.
Meanwhile, the act of vaping itself could be damaging to your health. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, lung injuries in the United States have been linked to the increased use of vaping products.
What can be done about vape waste?
Ultimately, using single-use devices should be stopped immediately. So much waste gets created by disposable vapes every year, even though there are reusable alternatives.
As the BBC noted, the UK Government is investigating a complete ban on disposable vapes, as are the Scottish government and local councils in England and Wales.
If using disposable vapes, throwing them away responsibly is essential. Sending them to dedicated recycling centers or putting them in purpose-built bins will increase material recovery — thus improving sustainability — and reduce the possibility of fires.
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