Wednesday, 8 Feb 2023

Campaigner collecting 'one disposable vape a minute' calls for urgent ban

Festivals, nightclub smoking areas, and parks – disposable vapes seem to be everywhere.

Apart from being a must-have fashion accessory for millennials and gen-Zs, these rainbow sticks have become an environmental nightmare as more than 67 million are thrown away annually.

Laura Young is one of the activists calling on the government to ban these vapes – just like it did with single-use plastic cutlery and plates – to reduce the pollution.

Based in Dundee, Scotland, the PhD student collects discarded disposable vapes while walking her dog at the rate of ‘one per minute’.

‘It is sold as disposable – its unique selling point is that you use it until it runs out and then you throw it away and get a new one,’ the 26-year-old told Metro.co.uk.

‘This is shocking considering the world is in a climate crisis. We have a resource shortage and we are trying to move away from single-use plastics.

‘We are using electronic devices that are designed to be thrown away. Every time I am out, I will see them on the ground, pick them up and get rid of them.

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‘On Sunday, it was the first time I ever went specifically looking because I wanted to actually map and record how many I see. And I found one every minute.

‘I was not rummaging through bushes or scanning every inch of the pavement.’ 

Disposable vapes are a small, non-rechargeable devices that are pre-charged and already filled with e-liquid.

They consist of a what has been dubbed a ‘zombie’ battery, a tank, and a coil – none of which can be recycled with household rubbish.

In England, more than three million people vape to curb their smoking habit – a number that is only on the rise.

Laura was on a walk with her dog when she first noticed one carelessly discarded on the sidewalk.

Curious about what these products are and their impact, she looked into research commissioned by Material Focus in 2022.

According to the environmental not-for-profit, more than 1.3 million single-use vapes are thrown away every week, which is enough to cover 22 football pitches in a year.

It said the number of vapes thrown away are contributing to the fastest growing waste stream in the country, with more than 155,000 tonnes of electrical rubbish thrown away annually.

Laura said: ‘Actually, these are not supposed to be thrown into the bin. They are Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) resources, and are supposed to be recycled.

‘But you also cannot recycle them at home. It is not something that is collected curbside. It needs to be specially recycled at a recycling centre.

‘Normally, brands who sell products like this have a responsibility to offer take-back schemes and collection points but this is not happening.

‘This is something Westminster has raised as an issue, but I think we need to go further and actually ban these because there is a reusable option out there.’

Laura also stressed single-use vapes also create extremely toxic waste which can be harmful to children, pets, and wildlife as the battery may be damaged and leak chemical.

She added: ‘A lot of people have written to me on social media talking about their dogs picking up disposable vapes off the ground.

Libby Peake, head of resource policy at Green Alliance, stresses ministers should urgently introduce a ban to prevent this ‘avoidable threat getting out of hand’.

She said: ‘The government is banning some single use plastic items like straws and cutlery on the one hand but standing by while disposable vapes become an environmental scourge on the other.

‘Every week, more than 1.3 million disposable vapes are being thrown away, wasting precious resources like lithium that are needed for electric cars and wind turbines.

‘When they are littered, which is becoming all too common, it is even worse as the plastic, batteries and nicotine they contain are all hazardous.’

The Department for Environment Food and Rural Affairs argued its Environment Act will give the government new powers to ensure products are as durable, repairable and recyclable as possible, to increase their lifespan and reduce the damaging impact that they can have on the environment.

But no plans were mentioned about a future ban on disposable vapes.

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