Disposable vape ban: The important role of communication


disposable vapes

Ed Willmott, managing director at Prova, gives his thoughts on the disposable vape ban and why it should be seen as a wake-up call for better communication when it comes to best practice waste management. 

Following ongoing pressure from public health bodies, the UK government recently confirmed that disposable vapes will soon be officially banned across England, Scotland and Wales.

The number of children using vapes has tripled over the past three years, with strong evidence showing that cheap, easy-to-use disposable products with bright and colourful packaging are partly to blame. The ban is expected to come into force later this year, with a six-month grace period offered to allow businesses to adapt.

Banning the sale of disposable vapes is positive news on two counts. The widespread impact on public health is clear, but the environmental implications are equally concerning.

This ban should be seen as a real wake-up call for where we are and where we need to be in terms of communicating best practice waste management.

It’s hugely disappointing to see vapes either littered, mixed in with recycling or thrown into general waste – an estimated five million every week, according to Material Focus – rather than being disposed of through dedicated vape recycling collections.

As a result, we’re seeing regular fires at waste depots (even forcing one Scottish firm to buy its own fire engine), while also unnecessarily costing the public purse millions in street cleaning costs.

Even recycling streams are becoming contaminated with disposable vapes, which adds further costs for preprocessors – a frustrating scenario, especially as even if the ban came into effect tomorrow, we would still have to suffer through six more months during the government’s “buffer” period.

What’s more, according to research from UCL, around 10,000kg of lithium from e-cigarette batteries enters landfill sites every year. With lithium regarded as an essential building block for green technology and the modern digital economy, it’s shocking that as a country we discard 10 metric tonnes of the precious metal per year in disposable vapes alone.

Disposable vapes
Research by Material Focus highlighted that over 700 fires in waste trucks and sites were caused by batteries.

As a communicator, I must ask myself why the situation has become so untenable, especially considering that many retailers offer vape recycling collections. Items can also be included within WEEE recycling streams or disposed of at HWRCs. Is it because of convenience? Is it confusion? Or is it simply a lack of public information?

Banning disposable vapes is an important and valuable step, but we must be open to learning from the situation. Simply branding vape users “lazy” and “careless” is too easy. It fails to tackle the wider problem. 

While not the silver bullet solution, I think that communication has a key role to play in improving public engagement and ensuring best-practice waste management. Firstly, we need to shout far louder about the environmental implications of our actions – paint the picture of what happens when items, such as single-use vapes, are improperly disposed of.

Secondly, we need to provide real clarity when it comes to the solution – where can I dispose of vapes? When? How much does it cost? Most of all: it must be simple and relatable.

I’m not just talking about consumers, either. What’s the message to the retailers when they’re left with thousands of single-use vapes after the ban has been introduced? Is there a risk that we’ll see high volumes dumped in the general waste stream? I hope not, but we need to give this some real thought.

Disposables vapes
78% of single-use vapes sold every year in the UK are thrown away in general waste bins instead of being recycled.

Remember that while disposable vapes are certainly one of the most harmful and environmentally damaging products to confuse this space, they are only the tip of the iceberg. Items like nappies and coffee cups come with their own set of nuances and exceptions for how to safely and properly dispose of them.

Looping back to disposable vapes, this ban should be seen as a real wake-up call for where we are and where we need to be in terms of communicating best practice waste management with consumers and retailers.

If we’re serious about minimising waste and environmental impacts and maximising resource efficiency, effective communication must become a far greater priority for waste managers, policymakers and stakeholders across the entire product value chain.  

Do you want to learn more about hard-to-recycle materials and products? Join CIWM’s webinar on 14 February 2024 at 12:30pm on the good, the bad and the hard to recycle. Remember, CIWM members have exclusive free access to all webinars.

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