Are disposable vapes bad for the environment?

Is vaping bad for the environment? Can vapes be recycled? What’s the problem with single-use vapes? Here’s what you need to know.



🎉 Victory! In January 2024, the UK government announced a ban on disposable vapesthanks in part to the nearly 250,000 of you who demanded action.

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Vapes, or e-cigarettes, were originally produced to help people trying to quit smoking – and they still serve that important purpose. But single-use disposable vapes are growing more and more popular, and they’ve become one of the defining images of our throwaway culture.

Whether or not you vape yourself, we can all recognise the environmental issues with throwaway vapes:

      • They’re made from plastic (which is made from planet-wrecking oil).
      • They create huge amounts of waste. The number of disposable vapes getting binned each year could fill 22 football pitches!
      • Due to the way they’re made, disposable vapes are almost impossible to recycle.
      • Disposable vapes waste valuable resources (that could be used for the green energy transition).
      • The materials and chemicals used in vapes are potentially hazardous and pollute the environment.

Thankfully, there is a solution! Let’s dive into why disposable vapes are such an environmental issue, and what we can do about it:

Why are disposable vapes so bad for the environment?

The biggest problem with disposable vapes is that they are, well, disposable. A market full of single-use products isn’t sustainable.

For every vape sold, there’s the production of plastic, mining for materials, shipping and packaging to sell it, and then we have to deal with the waste at the end of its life.

In the UK we bin nearly 5 million vapes each week – that’s roughly 8 vapes every second. That’s a huge amount of waste that has to go somewhere. Some enters the environment as litter, some goes for recycling, while the rest ends up in landfills.

Can vapes be recycled?

Disposable vapes are difficult to recycle because they’re made from a mixture of materials – including plastic, copper, and a lithium battery. They’re designed as one unit, which means the batteries can’t be easily separated from the plastic shell and other materials. This makes disposable vapes difficult and expensive to recycle.

The other problem with all single-use products is that we’re making more waste than we can cope with. Even if disposable vapes were easier to recycle, our waste management systems can’t handle the huge quantities of disposable vapes being thrown away every day.

How can I safely throw away my disposable vape?

The safest way to recycle your vape is with your other small electrical appliances. Check with your local council about electrical recycling in your area, or find your nearest electrical recycling point.

Disposable vapes waste valuable materials

Disposable vapes are powered by a battery which is made from lithium – a precious metal which is already facing global shortages.

The batteries in disposable vapes could be recharged, if they had a charging port. Instead they’re made to be used for a very short time and then thrown away. Using a reusable battery in a single-use product just doesn’t make sense.

Over 40 tonnes of lithium was thrown out with disposable vapes in the UK in 2022. That’s enough to make batteries for 5,000 electric cars! For a green transition, we need to get the most use out of scarce minerals like lithium.

If disposable vapes were rechargeable they could be re-used up to 300 times. This would drastically reduce the number of vapes ending up in landfill every day.

Are disposable vapes dangerous?

The materials used in disposable vapes make them a potential hazard to humans, wildlife and the environment when they’re thrown away. Lithium batteries are highly flammable and have been causing dangerous fires in bin lorries and waste processing centres.

Then there’s the pollution from disposable vapes. If they’re littered or in landfill, there’s a risk of harmful chemicals like battery acid, lithium and nicotine leaking into the environment.

What’s the solution?

Greenpeace is calling on the government to ban disposable vapes. Reusable, rechargeable vapes are already a good alternative. By banning disposable vapes we can shift from our throwaway culture to one of reuse. This will make better use of the valuable resources and stop toxic waste from leaking into the environment.

Update 29/01/24: the UK government has just announced a ban on disposable vapes – thanks in part to the nearly 250,000 of you who demanded action.

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