Two vapes thrown away every second, wasting scarce minerals needed for electric cars

“With demand for lithium and cobalt set to soar as we transition to green technologies, we need to be smart about how we use them,” said Susan Evans, the head of resources policy at think tank Green Alliance.

“Just like taking a refillable mug to get our morning coffee, the transition to e-cigarettes offers the potential to introduce reusable systems that reduce litter and waste. But if producers opt for disposables, or for e-cigarettes with batteries that can’t be removed for recycling, we could have an even worse, more toxic problem on our hands than the longstanding issue of cigarette litter.”

Vapes can be processed along with other small electrical waste, although the amount of lithium contained is so small that is not always economically viable for it to be recovered.

Batteries often catch fire in bins

When placed in bins or in general recycling, the batteries often catch fire as they are processed, which can lead to significant damage.

“Aside from being incredibly wasteful devices that are contributing to the growing volumes of electronic waste in the UK, single use or short-life vape devices also pose a real danger to recycling and waste workers because the hidden, powerful, lithium-ion batteries in them are known to start fires if they are not discarded carefully,” said Jacob Hayler, the executive director of the Environmental Services Association, which represents the waste industry.

“We’re seeing a growing number of dangerous and costly fires in recycling plants, waste facilities and refuse to collect vehicles across the UK started by batteries hidden inside a range of consumer electronic devices that have been chucked in the bin or mixed with other recycling instead of being recycled carefully alongside other waste electrical items – with vape devices among the list of culprits.”

The ESA added that producer-funded infrastructure was “patchy at best” with many consumers having no idea where their nearest recycling point.

An EA spokesperson said: “Businesses who sell electrical or electronic equipment on the UK market are required to comply with the WEEE regulations. Any business identified as failing to comply with these regulations will be subject to an appropriate enforcement response.

“Defra will be exploring improvements to the collection and recycling of small mixed waste, electric and electronic equipment later this year.”


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