We are in the midst of a ‘vaping revolution’, according to campaign group Action on Smoking and Health, with an estimated 4.3 million people in the UK now regularly using e-cigarettes. But hand-in-hand with this increase has been a rise in catastrophic fires at UK waste facilities, caused by vapes being thrown away along with household rubbish.
While most people are now aware that ordinary batteries should never be thrown away in a household bin or skip, but rather recycled correctly, it seems users of disposable or single-use vapes are unaware that they contain batteries.
Vapes, and any other devices containing batteries, pose a significant fire risk because the batteries can be punctured and combust, releasing their stored energy and starting fires, which can burn with significant, ferocious force.
In addition to posing a potential fire risk, the incorrect disposal of batteries can allow the toxic chemicals within them to be released into water, air or soil, causing damage to the environment.
Not as disposable as you might think
Research by the non-profit organisation which runs the Recycle Your Electricals campaign, Material Focus, identified that 1.3 million single-use vapes are thrown away every week. Each single-use vape contains on average 0.15g of lithium, which equates to 10 tonnes of lithium being discarded every year (equivalent to the lithium in batteries inside 1,200 electric vehicles).
According to Scott Butler, Executive Director of Material Focus, vaping is a growing phenomenon in the UK and over 50% of all single-use vapes sold are needlessly being thrown away.
“This means that every week 1 million vapes are not recycled,” says Butler. “We need to take urgent action now and ensure that they get recycled.”
Material Focus highlights that a key part of the problem is that vapes are advertised as disposable and is urging producers and retailers to work together to make people aware that vapes should never be binned and instead be recycled.
“Recycling needs to be made easier and manufacturers and retailers can become part of the solution by adding collection points in-store,” says Butler.
Preventing fires from vapes discarded in our skips
Unfortunately, at Rabbit Group, we come across many used vapes which have been thrown into our skips. To prevent harm to our operation and damage to buildings and equipment, our personnel regularly need to sort through the waste to check for these and other items which contain batteries.
Over the past few years, this task has grown increasingly necessary as more and more single-use vapes are being found among the waste we receive at our Energy From Waste facility. We have also had to invest heavily in robust fire prevention and detection systems within our power plant and materials recovery facility.
“We believe it is vital that the general public and businesses are better educated about the significant damage which can be caused by discarding batteries in an improper way,” says Dave Ely, Transport Operations Director at Rabbit Skip Hire.
“Throwing away a vape into normal household waste can have catastrophic consequences, depending on where it ends up. Please think before you throw away anything which contains batteries.”
To find your nearest electrical recycling point for any item with a battery, plug or cable, visit the Recycle Your Electricals website.
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