Disposable vapes are increasingly causing trash truck fires and recycling problems at a “heavy cost” to the taxpayer, the councils have said.
The Local Government Association, which represents councils in England and Wales, said single-use vapes such as the Elf, Lost Mary and Juul bars were almost impossible to recycle. They are designed as a single unit so the batteries cannot be separated from the plastic.
The organization said the lithium batteries inside the plastic can rise sharply in temperature if crushed and can become flammable. This costs taxpayers money due to fire damage to equipment and the specialized treatment required to deal with hazardous waste.
Last year, a study by Material Focus – a nonprofit which runs the Recycle Your Electricals campaign – found that around 1.3 million single-use vapes are thrown away every week in the UK – a rise extraordinary since the first was sold in 2019. Their work revealed that more than 700 fires in garbage trucks and recycling centers have been caused by batteries thrown in the household garbage.
Last month, recyclers said they were dealing with so many vapes they were struggling to insure their facilities. Some use artificial intelligence to detect vapes, as well as the installation of thermal cameras and automatic foam jets.
The warning comes days after children’s doctors called for an outright ban on disposable vapes to reduce their popularity with young people, as the long-term impact remains unknown.
Dr. Mike McKean, RCPH’s vice president and pediatric respiratory consultant, said the college had made a “very carefully considered appeal” amid concerns among its members about an “epidemic” of vaping among children. It was noted that a small but increasing number of children suffered from respiratory problems.
Children’s Commissioner for England Rachel de Souza has urged ministers to crack down on the “insidious” marketing of vapes to young people. She said the government would “fail a generation” if these “highly addictive and sometimes dangerous products” were allowed to go mainstream.
Although the LGA did not go so far as to call for a ban on disposable vapes, it said retailers and producers of such products should take responsibility for the waste they create.
Councilor Linda Taylor, the LGA’s spokesperson for the environment, said: ‘Single-use vapes, like any other hazardous waste, must be properly classified and producers must take responsibility for the waste they create.
“The volume of these items that council waste management teams are handling is increasing, and this comes at a high cost to the council taxpayer.
“We need a crackdown on the producers and retailers of these products, and getting this waste under control.”