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    Investigation reveals councils’ lack of interest in vape recycling

    Photo: iStock

    ​A new investigation has revealed a staggering lack of investment in collection points for expired vapes across the UK, just a few weeks after the government announced a ban on disposable vapes which was motivated in part by environmental concerns.

    Freedom of Information requests were issued by the UK Vaping Industry Association (UKVIA) prior to the single use vape ban to 10 major provincial city and 10 central London councils as part of the investigation, including Birmingham, Manchester, Cardiff, Glasgow and Westminster.

    Only 60 per cent said they offer vape waste disposal at civic amenity sites (or designated collection facilities), whilst just one in ten have introduced vape waste containers in public places. Around one third do not offer vape waste disposal containers or drop-off points of any kind.

    The research also found that just one of the councils has introduced kerbside or household vape collection to date and that 80 per cent had no plans to invest in new vape collection solutions in the next 12 months – even before news of the disposable ban.

    One of the local authorities, Wandsworth Borough Council, said it plans to introduce a network of small WEEE waste collection bins with funding support from non-profit Material Focus. However, the ‘likely service provider’ reportedly advised these shouldn’t be used to recycle vapes.

    The findings of the investigation also come as submissions close for the government consultation on proposals to increase waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) collection levels, including the implementation of a separate category for vapes.

    The Local Government Association – which represents all the authorities contacted as part of this investigation – is one of the organisations which called for disposables to be outlawed, due predominantly to their impact on the environment.

    A spokesperson for the LGA recently said: “Councils are not anti-vapes, which are shown to be less harmful than smoking and have a place as a tool to use in smoking cessation. However, disposable vapes are fundamentally flawed in their design and inherently unsustainable products, meaning an outright ban will prove more effective than attempts to recycle more vapes.”

    Recent research by Material Focus, revealed that 70 per cent of people throw away their single-use vapes because ‘they didn’t know they could recycle them’ and reinforced the need for more recycling facilities. It found 44 per cent per cent of vapers said they would recycle their single use vapes if there were recycling points in a street or park, whilst 50 per cent said they would be likely to recycle if kerbside recycling was available to them.

    The UKVIA acknowledged that the sector needs to demonstrate the highest levels of environmental responsibility, but argued that local authorities have a critical role to play in providing the necessary infrastructure in public places.

    “Advocating a ban on disposable vapes on environmental grounds while not committing any investment to vape waste collection, despite the need for such facilities in public places – which are controlled by local government – is a case of the pot calling the kettle black,” John Dunne, director general of the UKVIA, said.

    “Even when single use vapes are no longer available in retail outlets, there will still be millions of rechargeable and refillable vapes sold every year, not to mention a rise in black market products that will arise from the ban on disposables. So, the lack of investment in collection facilities and foresight around the need make the disposal of vapes as convenient as possible is startling and extremely concerning.

    “We are under no illusions as to what the industry needs to do to ensure it is environmentally responsible, which is why the sector has invested in producing more sustainable products, providing recycling education for consumers, rolling out recycling initiatives and innovations and ensuring it is compliant with regulations. The UKVIA is also involved in the development of a vape licensing scheme which has just presented to parliamentarians and, if adopted, will require retailers to provide take-back facilities in-store before being allowed to sell vapes.”

    Added Dunne: “We can, and will, do much more to ensure environmental compliance across the sector, but that doesn’t mean local government can simply offload its responsibility for providing vape waste collection facilities in public places. The industry pays its business rates like any other sector and this makes up one of the largest sources of income for local authorities – a percentage of which is earmarked for waste management. If local authorities can provide public waste disposal facilities for all types of waste, why not used vapes?

    “Whilst I am sure vaping manufacturers and retailers could be encouraged to partner with local authorities to create more public collection points for vape waste, the industry can’t just put such facilities on streets and in parks, as is required. We need all the players in the vape waste eco-system to be joined up if we are to protect both the environment and the health of former smokers.

    The UKVIA’s investigation also looked at efforts to educate end users about the correct disposal of their used devices, with 40 per cent of respondents providing information on council websites and 30 per cent using social media to raise awareness amongst vapers on how to recycle their vapes. However, around half of the local authorities have not undertaken any such activities.

    Stewart Price, the head of producer responsibility services with Waste Experts – a leading nationwide electrical waste processor – said: “Currently, a significant volume of used vaping products are being wrongfully disposed of in the general waste bin and ultimately end up at landfill.

    “This powerful data demonstrates that much more needs to be done to educate consumers on the correct disposal of their waste vapes and reinforces the need for a much stronger collection and recycling infrastructure for this challenging waste stream.”

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