Five million disposable vapes are discarded each week in the United Kingdom, a fourfold increase over the past year, according to a study conducted by the recycling campaign organization Material Focus.
The research discovered that only a minor percentage of vapers recycle their vapes in the proper recycling bins.
If not disposed of properly, e-cigarettes can ignite garbage trucks and refuse treatment facilities. According to the vaping industry, it is striving to increase recycling rates.
Disposable vapes, which are inexpensive plastic devices designed to deliver a few hundred puffs of nicotine vapor before being disposed of, are frequently dumped in trash cans and along roadways.
Material Focus, a non-profit organization that campaigns to increase recycling rates, estimates that each month, adults in the United Kingdom purchase approximately 30 million vapes, a massive increase that reflects the swift rise in popularity of these products.
Copper conductors and lithium batteries are both valuable components of disposable vapes. Material Focus estimates that the disposable vapes discarded annually contain enough lithium to power 5,000 electric vehicles.
To reduce the risk of fire, they should be disposed of in receptacles containing the mineral vermiculite in stores or recycling centers. They can then be transported to recycling facilities where they can be disassembled by hand.
By law, every establishment that sells vapes is required to accept returns, but this is a service that costs money to provide, so many do not.
They estimate that the potential annual cost of recycling all of these vapes would be £200 million, a cost that is not currently covered by manufacturers, importers, or retailers.
"Much more vapes are discarded on the floor, in public trash cans, and in kitchen trash cans than are recycled," says Scott Butler, executive director of Material Focus. Current recycling facilities fall far short of their requirements. It must be as simple to recycle as it is to purchase.
Vapes that become mixed with other household refuse can cause fires in waste facilities and garbage trucks.
Veolia, which accumulates roughly a tenth of the United Kingdom's waste, reports that lithium batteries, including those in vapes, cause approximately one fire per day at its facilities.
It is illegal for those under the age of 18 to purchase e-cigarettes, and research indicates that young vapers are much more likely than adults to cast away or flush their e-cigarettes down the toilet in order to conceal their habit from their parents.
A spokesperson for Elfbar, the most popular disposable vaporizer brand in the United Kingdom, stated that the company is "fully committed to increasing rates of recycling" and is working to install thousands of recycling points in retail locations and increase the recyclability of its products.
John Dunne, the director general of the UK Vaping Industry Association, stated that the industry's rapid expansion made it difficult to keep up, but that many independent vape businesses now have recycling facilities.
The Scottish Government is contemplating a moratorium on disposable electronic cigarettes. In July, councils in England and Wales called for a moratorium, in part due to the waste disposal issues they can cause.
Yougov conducted a survey of 5,156 individuals, of which 167 were 16 or 17 years old, for Material Focus's study.