The government will consider changes to ensure the vaping sector “plays its part” in financing the collection and treatment of their products as part of the upcoming review of the waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) regulations.
Often used to help people give up smoking, vapes are electronic devices that allow people to inhale nicotine as a vapour instead of smoke.
Research from Material Focus, the not-for-profit organisation funded by the WEEE compliance fee, shows 14 million single-use vapes are bought each month, while 1.3 million are thrown away every week.
Defra recently published its response to a consultation it ran on commonly littered single-use plastic items between November 2021 and February 2022. Within the response, Defra noted it had not explored the issues around the waste generated from disposable vapes.
Defra said it was reviewing the current producer responsibility systems for WEEE and batteries and planned to publish the much-delayed consultations on both areas “this year”. The consultations will look at vapes, Defra said in its response.
The UK Vaping Industry Association (UKVIA), the trade body representing the industry’s interests, says it is in discussions with several waste companies to create a recycling solution that is “fit for purpose for the vaping sector”.
Scott Butler, Material Focus’s executive director, said his organisation had helped identify the environmental issues associated with single-use vapes and “wouldn’t be surprised” to see them feature in the upcoming WEEE review.
He added: “However, producers, importers, distributors and retailers of vapes need to do more now to make it easier to recycle them, as at least over one million a week are being incorrectly binned and littered and they are a significant contributor to waste electricals, the UK’s fastest growing waste stream.”
Material Focus says vape producers and retailers must follow several environmental requirements, which include joining a producer compliance scheme if they place more than five tonnes of electricals on the market, among other things.
John Dunne, the UKVIA’s director general, said his industry recognised its responsibilities to the environment. However, he said recycling vapes was “not straightforward” as it required collaboration between adult vapers, retailers, manufacturers, regulators, and waste management companies.
Mr Dunne added: “Up to now there has been genuine confusion amongst the vaping sector about their responsibilities under the WEEE directive.
“Earlier this year, the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment alluded to uncertainty around whether regulations covered the type of batteries found in vapes and also questioned the recycling infrastructure in place to support the sector to be more sustainable.
“This is why we are working hard as an industry to find a waste management solution that minimises the impact of vapes on the environment, particularly when it comes to single-use disposables, so they are seen for what they do best – helping adult smokers kick their habits and save the lives of millions, as well as millions of pounds for the health service.”