Should disposable vaporizers be banned?

Disposable vaporizer discarded on the pavement

Walk down the street and you’ll likely see finger-sized colored plastic tubes discarded on the ground.

Disposable vaporizers are becoming more and more popular, especially between the ages of 18-34. They are easy to use and inexpensive.

But activists say they are an environmental nightmare, one activist calls for them to be banned.

The vaping industry told BBC News that the problem lies in unclear disposal rules and that better national recycling schemes need to exist.

Disposable vaporizers – which last around 600 “puffs” – contain valuable materials such as lithium and copper batteries, as well as plastic, which means they are classified as waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE).

Consumers should dispose of them at a home recycling center or at the shop where they bought the device.

But many are not aware of it. Before Kate Matteson stopped vaping, she only used single-use vaporizers.

“The disposable ones are so readily available at the counter of every corner store, right next to the bubble gum. It’s hard to go from a £ 5 ready vape to a £ 20+ reusable gizmo that could leak and is more annoying “he told BBC News.

He said he had no idea they were recyclable and that “the messaging could definitely be improved”.

“If vaping companies were to post ads on social media letting people know how to dispose of them, it would grab our attention,” he suggested.

Disposable vaporizer discarded on the pavement

Disposable vaporizer discarded on the pavement

A recent study suggested that more than half of vaporizers are thrown straight into the bin. Up to 1.3 million single-use vaporizers are thrown away every week, according to Material Focus, a non-profit organization that focuses on recycling electronic waste.

Lithium batteries – a finished material on which the rechargeable technology is based – in these vaporizers alone are equivalent to 10 tons of lithium per year, equivalent to the batteries of 1,200 electric vehicles.

But they are not easy to recycle. If damaged when thrown away, lithium batteries can cause fires in waste disposal facilities and must be disposed of carefully, explains Waste Experts, a certified WEEE recycler.

What are disposable vaporizers?

  • They are classified as waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE), which places them in the same category as large electronic products such as kettles

  • Doctors say children are being targeted by e-cigarette companies, with bright packaging, exotic flavors and enticing names. The long-term health effects of vaping are unknown

The difficulty of recycling disposable vaporizers is leading activists like Laura Young to call for a ban.

Laura, a PhD student and climate activist, collects discarded vaporizers scattered around her hometown of Dundee, Scotland.

“I think people aren’t aware of what’s inside a disposable vaporizer. People are shocked to find that there’s a battery inside, along with a lot of other gadgets,” he says.

Material Focus is pushing for vaporizer recycling to be much easier and for manufacturers and retailers to install collection points in stores.

Large stores currently have to collect all items of small electronic products such as disposable vaporizers from the store to be recycled for free, regardless of whether the item was purchased at that store.

And smaller retailers are legally obligated to fund the take-back, collection and treatment of these products when they become waste.

But the UK Vape Association says “there is real confusion in the market over WEEE regulations” as well as “misunderstandings” in the industry about who is responsible for disposal.

One of the leading vaporizer manufacturers, Elfbar, told BBC News that he acknowledges that the rapid growth of the vaping market has “environmental implications”.

He says he intends to address the problem by introducing recycling boxes that retailers can use to collect Elfbar vaporizers.

“We are also placing great emphasis on the future design of our products so that they have a longer shelf life rather than being single use,” he said.

Another popular company, Geekbar, declined to comment.

Asked by BBC News about the environmental issue of disposable vaporizers, the president of the UK Vape Industry Association (UKVIA) suggested that the regulations are not clear.

“You have to dig into the regulations to find any mention of e-cigarettes that could be due to the fact that when they were introduced in early 2014, disposable vaporizers were still in their infancy,” said John Dunn, UKVIA Chair.

He wants the Department of Environment, Food and Rural Affairs (Defra) to provide clarification on “industry rules, regulations and obligations”.

Defra says the government will establish plans to reform existing WEEE regulations “in due course”.

You should be able to recycle a disposable vaporizer pen at large supermarkets, electrical stores, and local recycling centers. Here you can find the nearest center.

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