Britons ‘incorrectly binning’ enough single-use vapes to circle M25 weekly

The UK desperately needs to come up with a solution to the environmental impact of its disposable e-cigarette dependency.

smoke with black background

According to research by insurer Zurich Municipal, every week 2million single-use vapes are incorrectly discarded. This leads not only to an increase in pollutive waste, but poses a risk to vehicles and homes. 

Bin lorry blazes, for example, have leapt by 62% in the past two years, while house fires have jumped by 108% in that period of time, according to a Freedom of Information request. Overall, there are now enough single-use vapes being thrown away without following precautions to circle all 117miles of the M25 orbital motorway. This equates to three thrown into general waste bins each second, when regulations stipulate such items need to be placed in recycling and processed with care. 

However, this situation is less to do with negligence and laziness compared with confusion, mirroring numerous reports on uncertainty surrounding wider recycling. According to Zurich Municipal’s research, 73% of consumers are unaware that devices cannot be binned in household waste and domestic recycling because they contain lithium batteries, which can combust if crushed or damaged. Meanwhile, the environmental impact of mining lithium places even more emphasis on the need to recycle and reuse as much as possible. 

‘Compared to the number of fires we see caused by cigarettes, vaping could be seen as a much safer option,’ said Charlie Pugsley, London Fire Brigade’s Assistant Commissioner for Fire Safety. ‘However, we are concerned that there are often cases where vapes have been disposed of and the batteries have short-circuited and caused a fire. Vapes must be disposed of carefully as there is a very real potential of them starting a serious fire. If you are using vaping products, it’s vital you only use the charger it was supplied with and never overcharge it.’

Critics are now calling on the Government to introduce a full-funded kerbside collection system for electrical waste, and a national campaign to educate the public on the correct methods of disposing lithium battery-powered products. 

‘As lithium batteries become increasingly integrated into our everyday lives, it is crucial that we recognise and address the potential hazards they pose.  Discarded incorrectly, single use vapes are a ticking timebomb.  With millions of lithium batteries ending up in general waste every week, the government needs to act to protect people’s safety and the environment,’ said Lord Foster of Bath, one of several peers now demanding action from Downing Street. 

More on waste and recycling:

UK’s greenest cities ranked on recycling, air quality, and assets

Plastic treaty talks unlikely to deliver solution

Gen Z recycling confusion suggests urgent need for simpler services

Image: Luke Besley




Notify of
Inline Feedbacks
View all comments
Help us break the news – share your information, opinion or analysis
Back to top