Vapes becoming UK’s ‘fastest growing waste stream’

Research commissioned by Material Focus, a not-for-profit established to help the UK meet its electrical reuse and recycling targets, has found that two vapes are thrown away every second, wasting ‘scarce minerals needed for electric cars’.

Vape pensThe research, carried out as part of an investigation with the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, identified that half a billion vapes are bought each year in the UK. Almost a fifth of UK adults have bought either a single-use, rechargeable, or rechargeable with a single-use chamber vape.

Over 50 per cent of disposable vapes are thrown away, compared to 33 per cent on average for all types of vape, Material Focus says.

The number of vapes thrown away are contributing to the ‘fastest growing waste stream in the UK’, says the not-for-profit, with over 155,000 tonnes of electrical waste being thrown away every year and 527 million electrical items ‘hoarded’ in UK homes.

Disposable, single-use vapes were highlighted as particularly problematic as 1.3 million are thrown away every week. Every month, 14 million single-use vapes are bought, ‘rising to 167.5 million a year’ – 37 per cent of people who bought vapes in the last year bought a single-use vape, with this figure increasing to 52 per cent for 18-34 year olds.

According to Material Focus, vapes contain a range of materials which when thrown away ‘are lost forever’. Despite being covered in plastic, the lithium inside the battery is a key hidden material.

On average, each single-use vape contains 0.15g of lithium, with the 1.3 million single-use vapes thrown away every week resulting in ‘10 tonnes of lithium a year’. Material Focus states that this is equivalent to the lithium batteries of 1,200 electric vehicles.

When thrown away, lithium batteries become a fire hazard, Material Focus warns. When the batteries end up inside bins or recycling lorries with other materials they are crushed in the waste and recycling process – increasing the chances of being punctured, self-combusting and setting fire to dry and flammable waste and recycling.

These fires have the potential to endanger the public and waste truck operators by causing fires on streets, and waste centres across the UK and costing local councils millions of pounds.