New research reveals 78% of single-use vapes sold every year in the UK are thrown away in general waste bins instead of being recycled.
The study by insurer Zurich Municipal shows three single-use (disposable) vapes are being binned incorrectly every second in the UK, which is causing a “surge” in fires in council refuse trucks and waste processing plants.
According to the statistics, over two million single-use vapes are being disposed of incorrectly per week. Last year, Material Focus found that identified that 1.3 million single-use vapes are thrown away every week.
The Local Government Association, which represents councils in England and Wales, has called for the government to ban the sale and manufacture of single-use vapes by 2024.
The survey of 1,000 vape users found that 41% of respondents said they typically binned disposable vapes in household waste, 28% in street bins, 27% in household recycling and 20% at work.
Single-use vapes are emerging as an altogether more complex and hazardous problem.
Only 15% said they use a local authority recycling site while 13% returned used vapes to retailers. Just 15% of consumers surveyed knew larger stores that sell small electrical items – such as supermarkets – offer take back schemes for vapes and other items that contain lithium batteries.
The study also shows 72% of vape users are unaware the single-use products cannot be binned in household waste or recycling. 7% admitted to typically dropping empty devices in the street.
Zurich Municipal says Freedom of Information data it obtained shows the number of bin lorries that were caught in fires increased by 62% in the last two years. It says the data also shows house fires caused by vapes has increased by 108% in two years from 59 in 2020 to 123 in 2022.
The study also found that 70% of users are unaware the devices contain lithium batteries and 63% do not know the batteries can combust if they are damaged or crushed.
48% of vape users supported a campaign to raise public awareness of the proper ways to dispose of single-use vapes. 42% of consumers said vape packaging does not contain enough information on how to safely dispose of the devices.
Alix Bedford, a risk expert at Zurich Municipal, commented: “While councils have long battled the nuisance of cigarette litter, single-use vapes are emerging as an altogether more complex and hazardous problem.
“Flammable lithium batteries inside vapes pose a hidden danger to waste and recycling workers and are causing costly damage and disruption to waste management services. With house fires sparked by disposable and rechargeable vapes also on the rise, the government must take a lead in driving consumer awareness to curb this growing threat.”
Zurich Municipal has called for the UK government to create a separate category for vapes under Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) recycling regulations.