A shopping trolley containing disposable vapes

Call for legislation to ban disposable vapes

Over half of single-use vapes are thrown away, exacerbating the climate emergency
09 February 2023 , by Kerry Taylor-Smith

Single-use or disposable vapes litter the high streets of Scotland, and 71% of the Scottish public say they are concerned about the eco-impact of these ‘throwaway’ products

More than 70% of Scots are worried about the environmental impact of disposable vapes according to research commissioned by Asthma + Lung UK Scotland; 27% were “extremely concerned” about the environmental damage caused by disposable e-cigarettes, and a further 44% were “quite concerned”.

Over half of single-use vapes are thrown away, says not-for-profit organisation Material Focus. Estimates suggest 1.3 million are discarded weekly - roughly two per second. These vapes are marketed as disposable, so people assume they can simply be thrown away.

“The overwhelming majority of people across Scotland have had enough of disposable vapes littering their high streets and polluting their communities,” said Gillian Mackay, Green MSP. “It is time for action.”

Mackay says disposable vapes are incompatible with a low-waste economy and wants them banned: “We are living in a climate emergency, and the waste they produce is ridiculous.”

Sheila Duffy, Chief Executive of health charity ASH Scotland, is also concerned about the “escalation” of discarded vapes littering beaches and communities across Scotland, adding that they “pose a significant environmental threat as these plastics and lithium batteries seem to be ending up in landfill sites”.

Lithium is a precious metal which represents a fire risk if batteries are disposed of in household waste, or could leak into the surrounding environment if damaged. Disposable vapes should be recycled with electrical waste, but there is little information on how and where to dispose of them.

“Governments across the UK should pass legislation to ban disposable vapes, as well as ensure proper enforcement of current Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Regulations for other vaping products.”

“Action needs to be taken urgently,” said Catherine Gemmell, Scotland Conservation Officer at the Marine Conservation Society. “Governments across the UK should pass legislation to ban disposable vapes, as well as ensure proper enforcement of current Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) Regulations for other vaping products, to make sure take-back schemes are easy and sustainable.”

Defra said in October that the government plans to reform the existing WEEE Regulations in due course, whilst the Scottish Government announced a review into single-use vapes and vowed to consider a ban before the poll was conducted between 22nd December, 2022 and 3rd January, 2023.

However, there is some unease between the environmental risks posed by disposable vapes and their potential benefits for smokers. Experts suggest that regulated nicotine vaping products are far less harmful than smoking; they have also be proven to be a useful tool to aid quitting, even more so than traditional nicotine replacement therapies.

“E-cigarettes are a relatively new stop-smoking tool and for many, they are a helpful way to give up smoking,” said Joseph Carter, Head of Asthma + Lung UK Scotland. “But e-cigarettes are not risk-free, and more research is needed on how long-term vaping can affect the lungs and overall health.”

There is also concern about the effect such products could have on the younger generation, who have never smoked. Despite it being illegal to sell such products to under-18s, Duffy warns: “The easy availability of disposable e-cigarettes, which are being marketed with bright colours and sweet flavours, is driving a huge rise in children and youths experimenting.”


Image credit: Shutterstock

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