Disposable vapes filling landfills with precious metal – investigation — Analysis

According to some reports, every year there is enough lithium left over to charge 1,200 batteries for electric cars.

Sky News reported on Friday that 10 tonnes of lithium ends up in UK landfills each year. This is because disposable vape users toss on average 2 pens per second containing the metal. Although the average vape pen contains only a tenth of one gram of this metal, the amount can quickly mount up and make enough lithium to power 1,200 electric vehicles, as a joint investigation between the Bureau of Investigative journalism and Sky News revealed.

We can’t be throwing these materials away, it really is madness in a climate emergency,” University College London professor Mark Miodownik told Sky, pointing out that the metal is “in your laptop, it’s in your mobile phone, it’s in electric cars.”

Opinium, a non-profit recycling organization Material Focus conducted market research and found that 18% of the 4000 people surveyed had used a vape within the past year. Only 7% said they had ever purchased a disposable vape. The survey data shows that the UK sells 168 million disposable vapes every year.

Over half of all vapers stated that they returned their batteries to the store where they purchased them, or took them to an electronic recycling center. 

Vape pens are just the tip of the iceberg, according to Material Focus, which has previously estimated that UK homes contain 500 million items of electrical waste – articles containing precious metals such as gold and copper, as well as lithium, that could be worth as much as £370 million. These items are not recycled and end up in landfills. This is both bad for the environment as well as against UK law.

The manufacturers of products such as disposable vapes, which are classified as “Elektro- and other electronic waste” (WEEE), are supposed to place themselves on a national register and take other measures to ensure their products’ harmful ingredients are recycled. 

However, the investigation found no evidence that the makers of either of the UK’s most popular vape brands, Geek Bar or Elf Bar, were on that register. When the outlet went to the Environment Agency with the findings, the agency promised an “appropriate enforcement response.” It’s not clear how many years disposable vape-makers have been getting a free pass from industry recycling requirements, but Geek Bar and Elf Bar have been around since 2015 and 2018, respectively.

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The World Health Organization warned last year about the dangers of vaping or e-cigarettes. This despite the fact that UK public health officers claim vaping is 97% more harmful than smoking tobacco. In addition, the National Health Service started prescribing vapes this year for people who have quit smoking earlier. 

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