The fire risk presented by vapes entering the waste stream has prompted local councils to call for a ban of the sale of the devices in England and Wales by 2024. DRS schemes and other solutions are also being proposed.
In July the Local Government Association (LGA) called for such a ban, on environmental and health grounds. Greater Manchester Combined Authority (GMCA) threw its support behind the call on 31 July, and made a few extra suggestions of its own.
The EU is proposing a ban in 2026 and a ban in France is coming into force in December 2023. The LGA said it is crucial for England and Wales to follow suit to avoid a flood of vapes coming into the country. “Disposable vapes are a hazard for waste and litter collection and cause fires in bin lorries.”
Single-use vapes are a particular bugbear – these are assembled as a single unit, so batteries can’t be separated easily from the plastic and they are almost impossible to recycle without going through special treatment. The lithium batteries inside can spike in temperature if crushed, and become flammable.
“This comes at a cost to the council taxpayer through fire damage to equipment and the specialist treatment needed to deal with hazardous waste,” said the LGA.
Around 1.3 million disposable vapes are thrown away every week, becoming a familiar feature of urban litter.
The uptake of vaping with children is also a worry, and the LGA statement mentioned that many are marketed with fruity and bubble gum flavours, and colourful child-friendly packaging. “Strict new measures to regulate the display and marketing of regular vaping products in the same way as tobacco are needed.”
Chair of the GMCA’s Waste and Recycling Committee, Alan Quinn, wrote to the Secretary of State for Environment, Food and Rural Affairs, Therese Coffey, to express his support for the ban. He cited the potential to cause fires when pierced, damaged, or crushed.
He said: “We had 37 fire related incidents to end of June alone due to Lithium batteries and we’ve just agreed to spend £100,000 on thermal cameras to monitor for fires in our facilities”.
“Aside from the environmental impact of waste related fires, such incidents also cause significant disruption to waste services with knock on impacts for residents if collection rounds are not completed. The council taxpayers of Greater Manchester shouldn’t be left to pick up the bill for the dumping of these vapes”.
GMCA is proposing that the government introduces a deposit return scheme, whereby users receive credit in return for their used vapes, which would make it possible to capture and recycle the lithium inside.
Dan Carolan, Contract Director at SUEZ UK, said: “Putting vapes or other battery-powered items in the bin poses a real fire risk. We’ve seen this play out in Scotland, where last year a materials recovery facility (MRF) [in] Aberdeen like the one we operate in Greater Manchester was severely damaged by a fire that was most likely caused by a discarded battery.
“Disposable vapes and other electrical items should be either be returned to the retailer for recycling, or taken to your local recycling centre.”
In July, waste management firm Biffa launched a UK-wide disposal, collection and recycling solution for single-use vapes. The service invites consumers to return vapes via in-store bins in locations including airports, motorway service areas, medical facilities, universities and colleges, railway stations, distribution centres, shopping centres and offices.