Government announces ban on sales of disposable vapes

In a move to address both public health and environmental concerns, the UK Government has announced a ban on disposable vapes. 

This decision, announced today (29 January), is part of a comprehensive response to the government's consultation on smoking and vaping. The ban aims to tackle the escalating issue of youth vaping and the rapidly growing environmental impact of these products.

Single-use vapesResearch by the not-for-profit electrical waste campaigner Material Focus estimated five million units are discarded every week in the UK, a drastic increase from 1.3 million the previous year, posing a significant challenge to waste and recycling collections.

Steve Barclay, the Environment Secretary, commented on the Government’s decision to act: “Not only are disposable vapes often targeted, unacceptably, at children - they also represent a huge and growing stream of hard-to-recycle waste… This historic announcement will be a powerful tool in support of our efforts to crack down on waste and boost recycling, as well as helping to create the first smoke-free generation.”

According to Scott Butler, Executive Director of Material Focus, the ban addresses the vape industry’s failure to take responsibility for the full life cycle of its products: "The companies that make, import and sell single-use vapes have consistently failed to meet their legal obligations to cover the costs of collection and recycling, estimated to be circa £200 million per year.

Material Focus's research from March 2023 had revealed that over 90 per cent of vape and vape juice producers in the UK were not complying with environmental regulations. The cost of recycling all disposable single-use vapes sold in the UK could be up to £69 million per year.

Butler added: “The immediate focus now should be on what happens with vapes that are already in the market, and those that will be sold before a ban comes into place. The obligations to provide and pay for takeback and recycling remain. Then after a ban, the question is how will the UK tackle the environmental impact of the, sadly inevitable, illegal vapes that will be sold and then binned and littered?"

The Government’s decision follows a 6-week consultation last year, following calls by environmental stakeholders including local authorities to tackle what had become the fastest growing waste stream. Once a date has been set for the ban retailers will have six months to implement it.

Councillor David Fothergill of the Local Government Association's Community Wellbeing Board welcomed the government's action. “We’re delighted that the government has listened to the longstanding concerns of the LGA and councils and is taking decisive action to ban single-use vapes. Disposable vapes are inherently unsustainable products, meaning an outright ban remains the most effective solution to this problem.”

The National Association of Waste Disposal Officers (NAWDO) was similarly supportive, praising the attention paid to the environmental harms of disposable vapes, alongside their public health risks. NAWDO highlighted that discarded disposable vapes “are a hazard for collection crews, waste management facilities and its operatives due to the lithium batteries inside causing fires when pierced, damaged or crushed”.

The lithium batteries in disposed vapes each week are equivalent to those used in 5,000 electric vehicles.

Libby Peake, Head of Resource Policy at Green Alliance, commented: “Valuable lithium ion batteries will stop going to waste or winding up as litter, along with all the casings that have been blighting our environment for too long. This means critical raw materials will be preserved for uses where they’re much needed - like renewable energy.

“The risk of fire from mishandled batteries will be minimised and dangerous plastic pollution will be prevented. This bold move by the government is nothing but good news."

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