LARAC Responds to LGA Call for Ban on Disposable Vapes

LARAC agree that disposable (single-use) vapes pose a significant environmental threat to the natural environment when littered and to the safety of collection crews and infrastructure when disposed of incorrectly.

LARAC acknowledges that the disposal and littering of vapes directly impacts Local Authorities. Our members have cited suspected vape and lithium-ion fires in refuse collection vehicles, waste facilities and materials recycling facilities (MRFs).

Lithium-ion batteries are widely recognised as a fire hazard if disposed of among other waste materials, with data from the Environment Agency having identified batteries as the cause of almost half of all waste fires.

With no established or regulated disposal or recycling route, the 1.3 million vapes (containing 10 tonnes of lithium) discarded weekly in the UK are littered or placed in bins. A recent Government Call for Evidence consultation on Youth Vaping stated that the ASH survey found that among children aged 11 to 17 who vaped in 2022, 52% used disposable products – a rapid increase from 7.7% in 2021 and 6.9% in 2020. LARAC believes that the recent increase in fires throughout the waste sector can, at least in part, be attributed to the sudden rise in incorrectly discarded lithium-ion batteries from single-use vapes.

LARAC members have few options to offer safe routes for residents to dispose of single-use vapes. HWRCs (Household Waste Recycling Centres) are the only viable route for most Local Authorities. Alternative options for vapes are prohibitively expensive; LARAC spoke to one authority in England who had been quoted £55 per tube and £200 per pickup for vape collections anywhere other than HWRC sites.

Cathy Cook, LARAC chair said “Under the UK’s WEEE regulations, vapes are placed in Category 7 – Toys, Leisure, and Sports Equipment. LARAC believes it is vital that vapes are assigned their own product category as they pose different challenges to dismantle and recycle compared to other WEEE in this category, particularly as they contain hazardous materials such as lithium and nicotine. In the meantime, there is little to no regulation on the producers of vapes. WEEE facilities in the UK have been making innovative yet crude attempts at dismantling vapes using bespoke steel dyes and labour-intensive processes that are not sustainable.”

Any producer who places more than 5 tonnes of EEE on the UK market in a year must join a producer compliance scheme (PCS) to finance the collection, treatment, recovery, and environmentally sound disposal of household WEEE collected in the UK. The Waste Batteries and Accumulators Regulations 2009 require producers of batteries to take on the responsibility to minimise the harmful effects of waste batteries on the environment if they place more than 1 tonne of portable batteries on the UK market in a year. In 2022 Material Focus found that only 16 of the 150 vape producers and importers they investigated in the UK are registered with these schemes. LARAC urges the Environment Agency to hold all producers of vapes accountable, so that they are complying with schemes and that the funds and means needed for Local Authorities to deal with vapes efficiently and safely, is realised.

Considering the negative environmental and social aspects of single-use vapes, and the difficulties associated with their collection and recycling, alongside the fact that single-use vapes fly in the face of a circular economy model. LARAC urges the Government to ban single-use vapes or otherwise ensure that the ‘polluter pays principle’ is applied to the producers of vapes and that their collection and treatment are financed accordingly.

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