Single-use vapes are increasingly popular with young people. But what about their impact on the environment?
Disposable vapes are small, brightly coloured, one-use e-cigarettes. They come in a range of flavours – from “apple peach” to “strawberry ice cream”…
And right now, they are… everywhere. You’ve probably smelt them walking down the street. And you can buy them from most corner shops for under a fiver. They’re advertised on buses and on TikTok…
“I’m blown away by these disposables. I think they are excellent.”TikTok vape review
… and they’re even in schools.
“It’s just really shocking the amount of vapes that are around.”ITV News
The market is dominated by two brands, Elf Bars and Geek Bars. And although they are for over-18s only… they are increasingly popular with young people…
Sales of disposable vapes are booming. Multi-coloured, multi-flavoured, low-cost, highly addictive, and crucially, disposable.News clip
And as their popularity has grown… so have the warnings.
Disposable vapes are much easier, and cheaper, to get hold of than cigarettes. And, at least when they’re used in the short term, they are safer.
But they still contain nicotine. A single Elf Bar has the equivalent to around 50 cigarettes.
And they come with important health warnings. They can lead to tooth loss, gum disease, and lung damage – as well as nicotine addiction. And the biggest worry is that they are being used by a much younger generation who have often never smoked at all.
Here’s one school teacher speaking to ITV News about the impact on children…
“They just can’t get away from them. They go to sleep with them at their side. And it’s just got to that point now I’m thinking… this is worse than social media. This is an addiction of an entirely new cause.”ITV News
But it’s not just the health risks that are worrying. Because they’re single-use devices – once they’re finished, they get thrown away.
And their popularity means they are getting thrown away in huge quantities. In a now viral TikTok video a woman filmed herself looking for Elf Bars she’s recently used…
[Clip: sound effects of vapes being thrown into baskets]
In the video she’s pulling vapes from every corner of her room and dropping them in baskets – and they are stacking up. And that’s just one person’s recent use.
A joint investigation published by Sky News, the Daily Telegraph, and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism found that two disposable vapes are thrown away every second in the UK.
That’s over 63 million a year. (To put that in context, they would weigh more than a 1000-tonne cargo ship.)
So what does this mean for the environment?
Disposable vapes contain lithium – the same material used in electric car batteries.
Lithium is a finite resource and one that’s increasingly in demand because it will help us move away from fossil fuels. From the lithium in single-use vapes alone we could make batteries for 1,200 electric vehicles a year.
So we’re throwing away a material which is really important to us in the fight against climate change.
“Now, our research has shown that more than half of people buying these disposable vapes are chucking them in the bin. And that means these lithium batteries are ending up in landfill or in municipal waste incinerators.”Sky News clip
Disposable vapes count as “waste electrical and electronic equipment”, which means the companies producing or importing them have a responsibility to make sure they’re being recycled. And certain shops are required to collect these items and recycle them, even if they didn’t sell them.
But campaigners have argued they aren’t doing enough.
When approached by BBC News for comment, the UK Vape Association admitted there’s “confusion” in the industry. And Elf Bar said it recognised the “environmental implications” of the company’s increasing popularity and was hoping to introduce recycling boxes.
It’s a change which needs to happen fast if we’re to reverse the environmental damage being done by this latest trend.
Today’s episode was written and produced by Sean Collins and Claudia Williams.
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