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Environment and health groups demand disposable vapes ban

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Eighteen organizations have written to the environment secretary, Dr Thérèse Coffey, and health secretary, Steve Barclay, to call on them to address the “rapidly escalating threat” of disposable e-cigarettes to public health and environment.

Some of these organizations include Green Alliance, Marine Conservation Society and RSPCA.

Green Alliance said their demand follows research published by Material Focus, the not-for-profit organization funded by the waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) compliance fee, earlier in the year.

Material Focus’s research showed that “at least” 1.3 million disposable e-cigarettes, also known as vapes, are thrown away every week.

The letter called vapes “unnecessary electrical items” containing nicotine, plastic and lithium, all of which are “hazardous to the wildlife and environment when littered”.

The groups added that lithium is a material which is critical to the net zero transition as it is used to manufacture electric cars. However, lithium is “simply going to waste” in disposable vapes, with 10 tonnes discarded each year, they said.

Ban

The letter “strongly” urged the government to ban disposable e-cigarettes. The groups explained that they “believe the easiest way to do so is by adding them to the list of plastics that are prohibited as part of a shift away from single use culture”.

“Decisive action from the UK government now could prevent this emerging environmental problem from becoming a major issue, and head off a health crisis among young people.

“This decision would not hinder people who choose to use vapes to quit smoking, as reusable vapes are readily available,” the letter read.

Libby Peake, head of resource policy at Green Alliance, said: “We need to be moving towards durable and reusable products designed sustainably, not inventing new ways to cause harm to the wildlife and wasting valuable resources.

“Ministers must act swiftly to ban disposable vapes to protect young people and our environment from this new and entirely avoidable threat.”

Chris Tuckett, director of programs at the Marine Conservation Society, added that the society’s beach clean volunteers have started to see disposable vapes littered on beaches around the UK. “These products are made up of lots of different materials, which are rarely recycled, and pose a threat to marine life when littered,” he said.

“We must shift away from single use products, and therefore we fully support a ban on single use vapes.”

Health risk

Along with the environmental harm, the letter also highlighted the health risk of disposable vapes, pointing out a seven-fold increase in the percentage of 11- to 17-year-olds choosing to use them since 2021.

The groups reasoned that instead of helping existing smokers give up the habit, there is a risk that disposable vapes can create a new generation hooked on nicotine. And, according to emerging evidence, they could be increasing the risk of chronic lung conditions.

The environmental and health organizations are not the first to raise concerns about the disposal of single use vapes. Last week, Kent-based WEEE recycler SWEEEP Kuusakoski produced a technical note warning that e-cigarettes and vapes are “potentially hazardous” due to the presence of persistent organic pollutants (see letsrecycle.com story).

And, the British Metals Recycling Association recently called for the government to ban households from putting single use vapes in recycling or residual waste bins due to an “ever-increasing number of fires” (see letsrecycle.com story).

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