Number of disposable single-use vapes thrown away have in a year quadrupled to 5 million per week

Media Release, 8th September 2023

  • 7.7 million single-use vapes bought per week  (double compared to 2022)
  • 5,000 electric vehicle batteries worth of lithium being thrown away per year 
  • 33% of the 16-18 years olds that vape throw their vapes away in the bin at school or work and 40% would use recycling bins in schools/ their place of work
  • 76% of vapers say they would be more likely to recycle if vapes were marketed as ‘recyclable’

The latest research from Material Focus, has revealed that the number of disposable single-use vapes thrown away has soared from 1.3 million to nearly 5 million per week. This is equivalent to 8 per second being thrown away – almost four times the number since the research was first conducted last year. The potential yearly cost of collecting and recycling these vapes according to Material Focus research now stands at £200 million which currently isn’t being paid for by vape producers, importers and retailers. 

The research, conducted by YouGov with calculations from Material Focus, surveyed UK adults and for the first time this year 16-17 year olds to identify how many single-use vapes are being bought in the UK and their methods of disposal. The research also explored the preferred recycling solutions for vapes.   

Material Focus has found that UK adults report buying over 360 million single-use vapes per annum, containing valuable and critical materials such as lithium and copper that are regularly being binned that could instead be powering nearly 5,000 electric vehicles. They are toxic and damaging to the environment and wildlife if littered. The number of battery related waste fires continues to rise, some of which are considered to have been sparked by vapes being thrown away instead of being recycled. Last year Material Focus conducted research that identified that 700 fires are caused by batteries hidden inside electricals such as vapes in the waste stream.  

Scott Butler, Executive Director, Material Focus commenting on the latest research: “Since we last published our research the problem with single-use vapes has gotten further out of control. Single-use vapes  are a strong contender for being the most environmentally wasteful, damaging and dangerous consumer product ever made. And still very few producers and retailers comply with environmental regulations and haven’t put recycling drop-off points and systems in place. This all means that too often local authorities are being burdened with the major operational and financial headaches associated with what is now the fastest growing and most dangerous waste stream in the UK, single-use vapes.

“Vapes, like any other electrical with a plug, battery or cable, should never be binned and always be recycled as a minimum. We need rapid growth in the number of accessible and visible vape recycling drop-off points. And we need proper financing of genuine recycling solutions to recover materials and manage fire risks. The solution is clear: immediate, significant and transparent vape industry voluntary action in advance of planned regulatory changes already earmarked by Defra. The UK needs more accessible recycling drop-off points in stores, in parks, in public spaces near offices, bars and pubs, and in schools, colleges and universities. With 75% of vapers thinking that producers and retailers should provide more information that states that vapes can be recycled the word “disposable” should no longer be used in any marketing and promotion.

“Until single-use vape producers, importers and retailers act to genuinely comply with and finance their legal environmental responsibilities then the calls for banning the sale of them will only strengthen.”  

Material Focus analysis of the research also found that:

  • Over 30 million single-use vapes are bought per month by UK adults 16+ (double compared to Material Focus research conducted of adults 18+ in 2022)
  • Only 17% of people who buy vapes (“vapers”) say that they recycle single-use vapes in a shop or local recycling centre 
  • Nearly 3  million single-use vapes a month are being hoarded in UK cupboards
  • 73% of UK vapers say they throw away single-use vapes 
  • 1% of UK vapers say they flush single-use vapes down the toilet 
  • 3% of UK vapers say they drop single-use vapes on the ground (8% by 16-18 year olds)
  • 33% of 16-18 year- olds vapers throw single-use vapes away in the bin at their place of education or work
  • 33% of 16-18 years olds keep old single-use vapes stored in a cupboard at home (compared to 14% average)  
  • The main reason that 16-18 tends to throw away/ drop/ flush their vapes is because they don’t want the people they live with to know they vape – 31% compared to 8% of the population

A package of solutions are needed to solve the problem:  

  • Immediate, significant and transparent vape industry voluntary action on a comprehensive and widely accessible take-back and recycling solution alongside a major communications campaign to raise public awareness
  • More information displayed on vapes on how they can be recycled – 70% of people threw their single-use vapes away because they didn’t know they could recycle them
  • More recycling points for vapes in stores, parks, public places and schools and colleges:
    • 54% of vapers said they would be more likely to recycle single-use vapes if there were recycling points in store
    • For 16-18 year old vapers, said they would be more likely to recycle if there were recycling points in their place of education/work – 40%  
    • 44% of vapers said they would recycle their single-use vapes if there were recycling points in a street or park
    • Kerbside recycling could also have a role to play with 50% saying they would be likely to recycle if this was available to them
    • And 34% said they would recycle their single-use vapes if there were recycling facilities in pubs or bars/ music venues 
    • Recycle Your Electricals has a postcode locator which has over 13,000 locations, where vapes can be taken to be recycled 
    • All supermarkets, high street convenience stores, petrol stations, and specialist vape stores should be taking back old single-use vapes when you buy new ones. 

Material Focus have produced a briefing note for retailers and producers on how they can comply with environmental regulations for vapes. 

Notes to editors

For media enquiries please contact mobile 07714 708416

Research – The research was conducted by YouGov. The sample size was 5,156 adults, of which 167 were 16-17 year olds. Fieldwork was undertaken between 30th June – 31st August 2023. The survey was carried out online. The figures have been weighted and are representative of all UK adults (aged 16+).

A copy of our previous research conducted by Opinium in 2022 amongst 4,000 adults can be found here

About Material Focus and the Recycle Your Electricals campaign 

Material Focus is a not-for-profit organisation whose goal is to stop the nation throwing away or hoarding all their old small electricals. Material Focus is delivering  the UK-wide Recycle Your Electricals campaign. The campaign is revealing the value hidden in electricals and is making it easier for us all to recycle and reuse the small electricals we no longer need by providing more recycling points as well as providing practical information on how households can recycle.

The campaign is funded by producers of electrical appliances. The UK government sets annual targets for the recycling of all waste electricals, including small electricals. If producers of electrical appliances don’t meet this target, then they contribute towards a fund (WEEE Fund) which pays for a range of activities, including communications, behaviour change activities, increased recycling projects and research. Ultimately the aim is to support actions that will help the UK increase the levels of reuse and recycling of waste electricals.

Find out how you can get involved today

One of our friendly team will be happy to help.