Local shops not complying with vape recycling laws are the latest target for an environmental campaigner who discovered hundreds of single-use disposable vapes dumped on the streets.
Laura Young, from Scotland, went viral this month after uploading a video to social media platform Twitter, claiming to have found 55 littered disposable vapes in just one hour, and has since continued to document her findings.
As a result, Young is now calling for a complete ban on the sale of the products. When asked what sparked the campaign, she said: “It seemed irresponsible that an electrical product being sold as recyclable was being disposed of as litter.”
The news comes after supermarket Waitrose made the move to stop selling the products at the end of December last year, over concerns of their negative impact on the environment and health of young people.
Current Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) regulations state that anyone selling any type of product falling under the category must legally supply customers with a way of disposing them. However, UK Vaping Industry Association’s director general, John Dunne, revealed: “Up to now there has been genuine confusion among the vaping sector about their responsibilities under the WEEE directive.
“Earlier this year, the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment alluded to uncertainty around whether regulations covered the type of batteries found in vapes and also questioned the recycling infrastructure in place to support the sector to be more sustainable.
“This is why we are working hard as an industry to find a waste-management solution that minimises the impact of vapes on the environment, particularly when it comes to single-use disposables.”
Last week, in response to a consultation, the department for environment, food and rural affairs admitted that it hadn’t explored the issues around waste generated from disposables before.
It confirmed it would review the current producer responsibility systems for WEEE and batteries, as well as plans to publish delayed consultations on both this year, including vapes.
When asked how independent retailers could sell the devices more responsibly, Young responded: “I’m a big supporter of local independent shops, but it doesn’t mean they have to let things slide just because a product is providing them an income.
“It is their job to know what the regulations are, and they need to be put into practice, otherwise they are just irresponsibly selling. It’s a hard reality that everyone needs to face. I want to support people moving away from smoking, but in a way that doesn’t have unintentional consequences on the environment.”
Latest figures from the Office for National Statistics show that the proportion of tobacco smokers in the UK had fallen to the lowest level on record in 2021, with vaping devices such as e-cigarettes playing a major role.
There is evidence some independent retailers are offering the opportunity to recycle the products, including bestsellers Elfbar and Lost Mary, but CEO and founder of online wholesale start-up LocoSoco James Perry urged more to get on top of the law, as the campaign is “likely to catch the attention of trading standards”.
“Retailers need to take charge on this,” he explained. “It’s likely that regulators are going to start coming down hard on retailers as this becomes more of an important issue. Retailers can get a certificate to advertise in store when they successfully recycle the products.”
A spokesperson for Elfbar also confirmed it would be introducing recycling boxes to its retailers. “We are engaging with one of the service providers, ERP, providing data as required and assessing the recycling scheme,” they said.
Perry revealed the firm is close to launching its own-branded plastic container for stores to implement. Dunne stressed the UKVIA “will be hosting a special summit on this topic in order to bring all stakeholders together” so that it can “come up with a viable long-term solution that works for the industry and minimises the impact on the environment.
“Banning single-use vape devices is not the answer as this would deny millions of smokers the opportunity to switch to a tobacco alternative, which is at least 95% less harmful than smoking.”