Enough lithium to power 1,200 electric car batteries would be wasted every year
Some 10 tonnes of lithium end up in UK landfills every year, with disposable vaping users throwing away an average of two pens containing the substance every second, Sky News revealed on Friday. While the average vape battery contains only a tenth of a gram of metal, it adds up quickly, equivalent to enough lithium to make batteries for 1,200 electric cars, a joint investigation by the broadcaster and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism.
“We can’t throw these materials away, it’s really madness in a climate emergency“, Mark Miodownik, a professor at University College London, told Sky, stressing that the metal is “in your laptop, it’s in your cell phone, it’s in electric cars.”
According to market research conducted by Opinium for the non-profit recycling group Material Focus, about 18% of the 4,000 respondents had purchased a vape in the previous year, and 7% had purchased a disposable vape. Extrapolated nationally, the survey results indicate that 168 million disposable vapes are sold each year in the UK.
More than half of vapers said they threw theirs away when the battery died rather than returning them to the store where they bought them or taking them to an electronics recycling center.
Vape pens are just the tip of the iceberg, according to Material Focus, which previously estimated that UK homes contain 500 million pieces of e-waste – items containing precious metals such as gold and copper, as well as lithium, which could be worth as much as £370million. Instead of being recycled, these items end up in landfill, which is not only bad for the environment but, in some cases, against UK law.
Manufacturers of products such as disposable vapes, which are classified as “waste electrical and electronic equipment(WEEE), are expected to register on a national registry and take other steps to ensure the recycling of harmful ingredients in their products.
However, the investigation found no evidence that the makers of one of the UK’s most popular vaping brands, Geek Bar or Elf Bar, were on this register. When the outlet went to the Environment Agency with the findings, the agency promised a “appropriate law enforcement response.” It’s unclear how many years disposable vape makers have been getting a free pass from industry recycling requirements, but Geek Bar and Elf Bar have been around since 2015 and 2018, respectively.
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The World Health Organization warned of the high risk of vaping and e-cigarettes last year, even though UK public health officials say vaping is 97% less harmful than smoking tobacco and that the National Health Service even started prescribing vapes to smokers trying to quit earlier this year.
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