Millions of disposable vapes that could be recycled are ending up in landfill despite containing lithium, an in-demand metal needed for batteries.
A joint investigation by the Bureau, Sky News and the Daily Telegraph suggests that two disposable vapes are being thrown away every second in the UK. Over a year, this is enough lithium to make roughly 1200 electric car batteries.
Sales of disposable vapes are currently booming. A survey by Opinium found 18% of 4,000 people surveyed had bought a vape in the previous year, with 7% buying a single-use device. Having virtually disappeared, disposable vapes now appear to be driving the growth in the overall e-cigarette market.
The Opinium figures would suggest about 168 million disposable vapes are being bought every year in the UK. Two of the biggest brands in the country are Elf Bar and Geek Bar, which between them make up about 60% of the market. Most of the devices, also known as single-use e-cigarettes, contain a rechargeable battery but no charging port and are designed to be disposed of once the battery runs out.
More than half of people that buy single-use vapes bin them, according to the research carried out by Opinium on behalf of Material Focus, a not-for-profit recycling organisation.
While each vape contains just 0.15g of lithium, the scale of the waste means about 10 tonnes of the metal is ending up in landfills.
“We can’t be throwing these materials away. It really is madness in a climate emergency – lithium is one of the things that is going to fuel the green economy,” Mark Miodownik, professor of materials and society at University College London, said. “It’s in your laptop, it’s in your mobile phone, it’s in electric cars. This is the material that we are absolutely relying on to shift away from fossil fuels. We need to take care of every bit of lithium.”