On 14 July, the LGA released a statement calling for the Government to ban the sale and manufacture of disposable vapes by 2024. These FAQs provide more detail about our policy position.
Accurate as of 8 September 2023.
On 14 July, the LGA released a statement calling for the Government to ban the sale and manufacture of disposable vapes by 2024. We said that it is crucial that that ban comes into effect rapidly, as with the EU proposing a ban in 2026 and France rolling out a ban in Dec 2023, there is a risk that as markets close disposable vapes will flood into the UK.
Disposable vapes are a hazard for waste and litter collection and cause fires in bin lorries. Research by insurer Zurich Municipal revealed bin lorry blazes have surged 62 per cent in two years while house fires sparked by vapes have soared 108 per cent in the same period.
Across the UK in 2022, there were more than 700 fires in bin lorries and recycling centres caused by electrical batteries including the lithium-ion batteries commonly used in disposable vapes, campaign group Material Focus revealed. Disposable vapes are designed as one unit and the lithium-ion battery cannot easily be separated from the other components, so they should not be disposed of in litter bins or in household waste and recycling bins. Recycling requires the user of the disposable vape to take it back to a collection point and littering is a significant problem.
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. The LGA strongly believes that vapes should only be used as an aid to quit smoking.
The LGA is also concerned about the impact vaping is having upon children and young people. It is worrying that more and more children – who have never smoked – are starting vaping. In May 2023, data from Action on Smoking and Health (ASH) showed there had been a 50 per cent rise in the proportion of children trying vaping in Great Britain in the last year. In 2021, of children who use e-cigarettes, 7.7 per cent were estimated to use disposable vapes. This increased to 52 per cent in 2022, rising again to 69 per cent in 2023.
Several European governments are actively considering how to tackle the proliferation of the disposable form of e-cigarettes on health, social, and environmental grounds.
France has stated it could prohibit the sale of disposable vapes by the end of 2023. A French bill last year called for a complete ban on the "manufacture, sale, distribution or free offer” of single-use e-cigarettes on the ground that they are "an aberration from the point of view of both public health and the environmental footprint”.
On 10 July, the Council of the European Union adopted a new law to strengthen sustainability rules for batteries and waste batteries. The new regulations will make replaceable or rechargeable batteries in all consumer products, including vapes mandatory by 2027. The new regulations will apply to all 27 EU states plus Norway, Iceland, Switzerland and Liechtenstein from the end of 2026. Umberto Roccatti, president of Italy’s vaping industry association has already been reported saying “The funeral date for the product is effectively already set.”
This will be a considerable burden for producers and manufacturers of vapes, including on the performance, labelling, takeback and deposit-refund schemes, ease of battery removal by end-user, responsibility for disposal (or retrieval of unused energy) and the creation of a “battery passport” for the lifetime of every battery from production to disposal. As a result, the EU will become a less attractive market for international producers and may lead to stocks of non-compliant vapes being dumped on less-regulated markets such as the UK.
In June 2023, Ireland launched a public consultation considering future options for disposable vapes, including proposing an outright ban.
In Germany, the Bundesrat voted in March in favour of a ban on single-use e-cigarettes. The chamber of states approved a motion by Bavaria, calling on the Federal Government to advocate for an effective ban on the marketing of single-use e-cigarettes at national and EU level.
In the Netherlands, the production of flavoured disposable e-cigarettes and refill e-liquids was banned from 1 July 2023. A sell-out period applies until 1 January 2024 so shops can sell their stock.
Hungary has imposed a strict ban on the sale, ownership and use of Elf Bar brand disposable vape devices.
Across the EU certain countries have prohibited certain flavours from being used by their citizens. Some of these include but are not limited to Denmark, Estonia, Finland and Lithuania.
In Scotland, over twenty local councils have echoed our call for a ban.
In 2023, Australia will ban the import and sale of all single-use, disposable vapes. The reforms aim to make it easier for smokers wanting to quit tobacco smoking to get a prescription from a licensed pharmacist and to understand the contents of the vaping products they then purchase.
Beginning in August 2023, New Zealand introduced a ban on disposable vapes. Some countries – including Cambodia, Jordan, Nepal, Panama, Thailand, Turkmenistan and United Arab Emirates – have gone further and banned the use of e-cigarettes in their entirety.
The disposable vapes market has risen exponentially in recent years and is anticipated to continue growing.
Material Focus, a non-profit organisation which campaigns to increase recycling rates, calculated that UK adults buy around 30 million vapes a month, 360 million per year.
According to a BBC report, figures from research firm NielsenIQ suggest nearly 300m e-cigarettes (disposable and otherwise) sold in the UK over the last year.
Evidence suggests that people are most likely to dispose of a single use vape incorrectly. Research from Material Focus found that 5 million single use vapes are thrown away every week, totalling up to 21 million per month and 260 million per year.
Only 17 per cent of vapers recycle their vapes in the correct recycling bins, while a staggering 73 per cent discard them in the trash, and a negligible 1 per cent dispose of them by flushing them down the toilet. the research found.
The potential yearly cost of recycling all those vapes would be £200m, a cost which is not being met by producers, importers or retailers but by local taxpayers.
Disposable vapes contain copper wires and lithium batteries, which are both valuable materials. Each disposable vape contains roughly 0.15g of lithium.
Material Focus estimates that all the disposable vapes thrown away in a year contain enough lithium to provide batteries for 5000 electric cars.
The organisation Zero Waste Scotland estimated that somewhere between 721,000 and 2,787,800 units were littered in Scotland in 2022.
In July 2023, the insurer Zurich Municipal published research which found that two million single use vapes are discarded incorrectly in the UK every week, three per second – with 78 per cent ending up in general waste, rather than being recycled.
Single use vapes are fundamentally flawed in their design and are inherently unsustainable products. The problems with plastic items that escape into the environment as litter and plastic pollution are well documented.
Disposable vapes should not be put in the council residual waste bin or street litter bins due to the risk of fires. Lithium-ion batteries can overheat rapidly and create an intense heat when damaged. The collection system for residual waste often includes crushing or compacting and this increases the risk of fires started by lithium-ion batteries. The end destinations for residual waste are landfill or incineration. Neither of these options is a safe option for treating the environmental harm of disposable vapes.
Kerbside collection of household recycling is also at risk from lithium-ion battery fires. The type of materials stored in recycling bins such as paper and plastic are fire sensitive and disposable vapes should not put in with them. Standard recycling sorting facilities do not have the equipment required to break a disposable vape into its component parts and deal with the hazardous elements, such as the residue of the vaping liquid and the unknown chemicals it contains.
Treatment and recycling of disposable vapes is technically possible but only at a specialised recycling facility. It is difficult to work out how many disposable vapes have been recycled through these routes, and data has not been routinely published. More evidence is needed on the effectiveness of recycling processes and whether the component parts of the disposable vape are reused or sent to incineration for energy recovery.
The vaping liquid can include a variety of different chemicals including nicotine and it is likely that some liquid residue will remain in the product after it has been discarded. Liquid nicotine is harmful to pets and wild animals if ingested.
The product may be manufactured with brominated flame retardants, and these chemicals are classed as persistent organic pollutants (POPs) and must be disposed of correctly to ensure that chemicals recognised as causing harm to human health and the environment do not enter the environment.
The vape industry are communicating to customers that disposable vapes are recyclable, but it is not clear that they need to be disposed of through separate recycling systems. This confuses the consumer, resulting in the contamination of kerb-side collections as people dispose of vapes in mixed recycling.
In addition, the very word ‘disposable’ to most people would mean ‘dispose’ in a normal bin, e.g. disposable gloves, disposable cups, disposable plates. As these products are convenient, cheap and labelled as disposable, many wouldn’t think about the process of discarding of them safely.
This all comes at a cost to the council taxpayer through fire damage to equipment and the specialist treatment needed to deal with hazardous waste. Zurich Municipal shows the number of bin lorries hit by blazes has increased by 62 per cent in the last two years.
Greater Manchester Combined Authority (the largest joint waste disposal authority in the country) has supported our call to ban disposable vapes. The authority is experiencing an increasing number of fires in its waste management trucks (with 37 fires reported to the end of June alone) due to lithium batteries. As a result, GMCA has had to spend an additional £100,000 on thermal cameras to monitor fires in its facilities.
Recent examples of fires to council bin lorries due to disposable vapes:
The options available for appropriate disposal of single use vapes are limited. Some retailers may provide a takeback service. There is no obligation to provide a takeback service unless the retailer sells over £100,000 of electrical items per year.
Vapes can be taken to a collection point for electrical items at a household waste and recycling centre. However, without a vehicle or suitable public transport options, these can be difficult to access, with some requiring appointments to be booked in advance. Residents in more rural areas and remote communities are less likely to have access to takeback schemes and live within proximity of household recycling centres. Some councils offer kerbside collection of small electrical items and may offer the option for vapes to be sent back through this route. Residents should check with their council to see if this service is provided locally.
Disposable vapes consist of various components that need to be properly disposed of as electrical waste. The majority of these products are not designed for easy disassembly and have to be manually pulled apart, making recycling challenging and inefficient. This short video from Recycle Your Electricals highlights the recycling process.
Not all components within a disposable vape are recyclable, meaning that even disposables taken to recycling centres will result in some waste being incinerated or taken to landfill. It is therefore misleading for producers to label these products as recyclable when it only applies to certain parts.
Their complex material composition will always mean they are logistically difficult, labour intensive and expensive to recycle, meaning that the precious metals they contain will continue to go to waste. This includes lithium and copper, which are critical materials to support our green transition.
The organisation Material Focus has developed a briefing for retailers and producers on how vapes are adding to the e-waste problem, and how vape producers and sellers can comply with their legal environmental obligations.
The simple answer is, we just don’t know.
Almost everything is ‘recyclable’ if you’re willing to spend huge amounts of money separating products into their component materials and putting them thorough complicated and expensive reprocessing. If something is labelled as recyclable, it doesn't necessarily mean that it actually will be recycled; it requires human effort and participation. Many rural areas, small towns, and communities do not have takeback or household recycling centres. Some individuals will choose not to recycle at all for a variety of reasons.
For example, takeaway coffee cups are recyclable, but need to be taken to your council’s local household recycling centre (if they provide this service) or to a specific coffee cup disposal scheme (e.g. some coffee shop chains have introduced on-site cup recycling collection points). In the UK, 2.5 billion coffee cups are used and discarded annually. Only 0.25 percent of these cups, or less than 1 in 400, are recycled whilst the rest ends up in landfill.
The limited number of disposable vapes self-reported to be recycled by the vape industry remain pitifully low. For example, a recycling scheme introduced by disposable vape manufacturer Riot Labs in 800 vape shops across the UK had less than a 1 per cent take-back rate.
It is only reasonable for disposable vape retailers and recycling companies now setting up recycling operations to be clear about their targets and data they are collecting. Without this transparency, how are we to know if it is successful or not?
Without transparent data on the number of vapes being sold, returned, and recycled, the industry can tell us what they like about these schemes which can be misleading.
In addition, a House of Commons Environment, Food and Rural Affairs Committee Report (November 2022) highlighted that the volatile prices of virgin (new) and recycled plastics means that it is often cheaper for producers to buy virgin plastics rather than recycled plastics, making revenues for recycled plastic difficult to predict.
Vapes come under the WEEE producer responsibility scheme for electrical items. Vapes are classified with toys and other battery-operated items (specifically category 7 toys, leisure and sports equipment) and the producer fee does not reflect the true cost of recycling and disposal.
The LGA is concerned by the low level of compliance by the producers of disposable vapes. Recent research has found that more than 90% of smaller UK vape and vape juice producers are not registered under waste electrical and electronic equipment (WEEE) regulations. The Environment Agency is responsible for taking enforcement action against producers who fail to register for the scheme.
Businesses that do register are paying a fraction of the cost of dealing with disposable vapes. If retailers sell less than £100,000 of electrical and electronic items per year, they are not required to provide takeback facilities on their own premises. Instead they can discharge their duty by paying money to the distributor takeback scheme. This funds councils to provide collection points for electrical and electronic items at household waste and recycling centres.
Through the Environmental Protection Act 1990, the Government has the power to ban ‘injurious substances’ that damage the environment or harm human health. A ban on disposable vapes can therefore be achieved using these powers, as was the case with bans on plastic straws and other single-use items.
Disposable vapes are inherently unsustainable products, when you objectively weigh up every single environmental and public health consequence, it is clear a ban is what is needed.
The Government has no current plans to apply an excise duty to non-tobacco nicotine or vaping products. We would be supportive of the introduction of an excise duty on vapes but only if the proceeds were specifically ringfenced for environmental, public health and enforcement purposes. Even if a tax were introduced, this would not solve the other major issues with disposable vapes, such as their environmental impact, use by children and young people and limited enforcement efforts.
Increased enforcement and registration of retailers will not change consumer behaviour in discarding used vapes, particularly as sales of vapes are now so widespread (e.g. no longer confined to just vape shops, disposables can be sold by barber shops, sweet shops and other locations).
It has been widely reported that a ban on disposable vapes may have unintended consequences, such as an increase in the illicit market. Big Tobacco companies regularly use these arguments to ascertain that increases in tobacco control policy will lead to increasing in smuggling, claiming higher taxes encourage more people to buy cigarettes illegally, for example, or that plain packaging makes it easier for counterfeiters to copy big brands.
We accept the prohibition of goods is unlikely to solve the problem, however, there are alternatives, and we are not suggesting a complete ban on vapes, we remain committed to refillable vapes albeit with tighter conditions on their sale, marketing and availability to children.
From January 2024 with a sell-out period to allow for shops to sell their stock. Urgent action is required to prevent further damage to council waste equipment and other detrimental impacts on the environment.
Rather than taking time to slowly develop more complex solutions, a ban would signal the Government’s commitment to the urgency of tackling this issue.
Public opinion on this issue is clear, as evidenced by a recent YouGov poll which found that 77 per cent of individuals would support a ban on disposable vapes.
Disposable vapes were added to 'do not bring' list at Glastonbury Festival. Organisers of the festival urged attendees not to bring single-use e-cigarettes to the event siting environmental concerns.
Reading and Leeds Festivals have also asked attendees to not bring disposable vapes on site in 2023.
There has been a particularly worrying rise in the number of children using vapes, with companies clearly marketing these products at children using colours, flavours and cheap disposable options.
The current marketing tactics, easy access to disposable vapes and risk of nicotine addiction are factors driving the increasing use of vapes by young people. In the absence of conclusive evidence that vaping is safe, as opposed to safer than tobacco, our policy recommendations aim to prevent youth uptake of vaping.
An NHS Digital report published in September 2022 found that more than one in five (22 per cent) of 11-15 year olds had reported to have used vapes in 2021 in England. Amongst 11–15-year-olds in the UK, 4.0 per cent currently use vapes, compared to 14.1 per cent of 16–17-year-olds and 20.2 per cent of 18-year-olds in 2022. This has doubled across all age groups since 2021, which was reported to be 2.2 per cent, 5.9 per cent and 9.6 per cent respectively.
A 2023 survey from ASH found that the proportion of 11–17-year-olds in the UK who stated they were current users more than doubled from 3.3 per cent in 2021 to 7.6 per cent in 2023, while those trying vaping once or twice increased by 50 per cent compared to 2022.
A Scottish study from 2022 found that children aged 11–16 years described disposable e-cigarettes as ‘cool’, ‘fashionable’ and enticing, and viewed these products as a modern lifestyle ‘accessory’, whereas reusable vapes were considered a more of an ‘adult’ product.
A 2022 survey by the Chartered Trading Standards Institute (CTSI) found 60 per cent of local Trading Standards services are concerned about high street shops selling illicit vapes or vaping products to children.
Councils and their Trading Standards teams are concerned about retailers selling disposable vapes to children. A recent example comes from Portsmouth Trading Standards investigators who sent a 15-year-old into shops to see if they could buy disposable vapes; two retailers were witnessed selling the products. Meanwhile, about 6,500 illegal disposable vapes (worth around £83,000) were seized in trading standards operations backed by police.
Many illegal disposable vapes seized by Trading Standards teams are prohibited because they break regulations on labelling and ingredients. By law, a vape can only hold 2ml of liquid – approximately 600 puffs. Some seized products have enough liquid for over 12,000 puffs, others contain illegally high levels of nicotine.
There appears to be no clear evidence to support claims that a black market would develop, and that a ban would flood the market with illicit and unregulated vapes.
A black market already exists for disposable vapes, with millions of illegal items flooding into the UK each year. In 2022, the North East Trading Standards Association removed thousands of non-compliant vaping products from sale in the region. A total of 1.4 tonnes of illegal disposable vaping products seized from retailers during operations in a six-month period were sent for destruction. A large quantity of the disposable vapes seized were not authorised for sale in the UK.
In November 2022, London Trading Standards reported that over a million disposable vaping devices were stopped from entering UK markets at Heathrow Airport, whilst Channel ports are reporting a ‘dramatic rise’ in the number of counterfeit vapes seized. At the port of Dover, 13,000 devices with nine times the legal amount of nicotine liquid was seized in a week. There is already a thriving black market in existence, flooded with unregulated and potentially harmful products.
Disposable vapes are not the only route to quitting smoking. Other methods still exist such as reusable vapes and other stop smoking aids (e.g. nicotine replacement therapies).
If the EU becomes a less attractive market for international producers it may lead to stocks of non-compliant vapes being dumped on less-regulated markets, e.g. the UK.
We accept the prohibition of goods, in itself, is unlikely to solve the problem, however, there are alternatives, and we are not suggesting a complete ban on vapes, we remain committed to refillable vapes albeit with tighter conditions on their sale, marketing and availability. To curb the illicit disposable vape trade, it is essential to secure comprehensive strategies for tackling criminal activities.