How to Dispose of and Recycle Vapes
The vaping market is one of the UK’s largest growing consumer goods sectors, currently valued at around £1 billion. Vaping shops and the many varieties of e-cigarettes they sell are everywhere. However, there are still many unknowns and some growing concerns around vaping as it’s a relatively recent innovation.
These range from health effects to advertising rules and the environmental impact of old vapes. We’re not medical professionals or advertising gurus, but we are waste management experts who can advise on how to dispose of vapes. The materials they’re made from, how they’re made, and what people and businesses do with them can have a significant environmental effect.
Correct vape disposal depends on various factors, including the type, brand, and whether it’s a consumer or business getting rid of an old one. Discover how and where to dispose of vapes safely and in an eco-friendly way with this guide.
Vape disposal facts
Responsible vape disposal is important to protect the environment, reduce waste going to landfill, and avoid contamination risks. Check out these vape disposal facts for an idea of how much waste old vapes create:
- Around 138 million disposable vapes are sold in the UK each year.
- Every week in the UK 3 million disposable vapes are thrown away, and around 5.4 million every month.
- 37% of vapers buy single-use vapes and more than 50% of disposable vapes are thrown away.
- 6 million rechargeable vapes are disposed of in the UK monthly.
- 23% of people recycle vapes in-store when buying a new one, while about 20% recycle vapes at a local household waste recycling centre.
- The number of disposable vapes that end up in landfill each year take up 1.4 million square feet of space – 11 times the size of Trafalgar Square.
- The use of disposable vapes in the UK increased by 600% from November 2021 to November 2022.
- 23 tonnes of lithium go to waste every year when people throw away disposable vapes. It’s enough lithium to power 2,884 electric vehicles.
- The production of disposable vapes in the UK releases 59,650 tonnes of CO2 into the atmosphere annually.
- Global production of disposable vapes releases about 9 million tonnes of CO2 yearly.
- Cigarettes are still worse for the environment than vapes though. Global tobacco uses 600 million trees, 200,000 hectares of land, and 22 billion tonnes of water. It also releases 84 million tonnes of CO2 annually.
Types of vapes
There were some earlier developments but the first type of e-cigarette (or vape) on the market arrived in 2004, according to the National Library of Medicine. Since then, the vaping market has boomed and there are a few different types of vapes available:
- Vape pens – these are common vapes in a cylindrical shape that can be either disposable or reusable depending on the brand.
- Pod vapes – there are two parts to a pod vape (or pod mod), a rechargeable battery and the replaceable and refillable pod.
- Box mods – currently these are the biggest vapes that have an external battery with variable wattage and temperature control, and a refillable tank.
- Disposable vapes – disposable vapes come in many sizes and flavours and once the battery or liquid runs out you throw it away.
Many brands are bringing out new vapes all the time and should include proper disposal instructions with their products. Generally, the best way to dispose of a vape depends on whether it’s a reusable or disposable vape.
How to dispose of a reusable vape
The easiest way to dispose of a single reusable vape is to return it to one of the thousands of shops that accept old electricals for recycling. Many have a legal responsibility to take back very small WEEE, which includes vapes. They’ll ensure your old vape is recycled responsibly to save you time, effort, and money.
Retailers and distributors have a responsibility to take back ‘waste electrical and electronic equipment that is less than 25cm on their longest side’ – such as vapes. This only applies to stores where the electrical and electronic equipment sales area is greater than 400 square metres (including aisle, display, and shelf space).
The likes of Totally Wicked have introduced vape disposal bins in 150 of their stores across the UK. Customers can return any brand of vape bought from any retailer in these bins for free. They’re then stored responsibly before being taken away for recycling.
Another responsible way to dispose of a reusable vape is to dismantle it and recycle its parts separately.
How to recycle vapes
Vape recycling is possible for reusable and refillable devices. The most sustainable option is to keep refilling and reusing the same vape where possible. However, if the vape becomes badly damaged, the battery completely dies, or you need to upgrade then recycling the vape is your next best option.
You can recycle vapes by dismantling them and separating their parts to recycle them alongside the same materials:
- Battery recycling – if your vape has a removable battery you can separate it and take it to any battery recycling point, found in many supermarkets. Vapes with built-in batteries can be taken to most local household waste recycling centres (HWRCs) for recycling with WEEE waste or returned to many vape retailers.
- Pods and tanks – remove the pod, tank, or cartridge from your vape and thoroughly wash it out with water to remove all the excess e-liquid residue. Any glass tanks or pods can then be recycled with glass recycling. If it’s made of plastic, check the packaging and bottom of the cartridge or pod for a recycling symbol and number. Check if you can recycle this type of plastic in your household recycling bin or if you should take it to your nearby HWRC.
- Coils – most coils are removable from the pod or tank, but if not please check the recycling instructions for your specific vape. Remove the coil and separate the cotton or wicking, then wash off any e-liquid residue. The remaining coil can be recycled with metals and in some household recycling bins.
- E-liquid bottles – all e-liquid bottles are made from a type of plastic. Wash out the bottle and check whether you can recycle the type of plastic in your household recycling bin. If not, see whether the plastic type is accepted at your local HWRC.
- Vape packaging – if you’ve still got the original packaging from your vape you can normally throw this away in your household recycling bin if it’s paper and card.
How to dispose of disposable vapes
Disposable vapes are single-use, so once they’re empty they need to be disposed of responsibly. You should never throw away a disposable vape with your general waste. Any vapes in landfill can leach battery acid, nicotine, and chemicals from the plastic into the environment. Plus, the lithium-ion batteries pose a fire risk.
The safest and easiest way to dispose of a disposable vape is to put it in a vape disposal bin or return it to a retailer. Many electrical and electronic shops accept used disposable vapes and will ensure they’re recycled. You can also dispose of disposable vapes at most HWRCs with other WEEE items.
If you can easily remove the battery then you could separate it and take it to a local battery recycling point (found in many supermarkets). However, the way disposable vapes are made means it’s difficult to separate the battery and materials in many single-use vapes. Disposing of them through the proper channels is advised.
How to comply with vape recycling
legislation as a business
Businesses that sell vapes must legally provide an option for customers to dispose of them in line with the WEEE (Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment) regulations. Any shop or other business that sells more than £100,000 of vapes must provide an in-store solution where vape customers can dispose of products on a one-for-one basis.
Signing up to a compliance scheme is a safe way to ensure this. Contact us at Business Waste for more information. Failure to comply could lead to a fine of up to £5,000. To ensure you’re compliant you must also:
- Provide and display information to customers about the take back service you offer – find out more on the government website.
- Keep a record of all WEEE items you collect and dispose of.
- Maintain records of how you tell customers about your take back scheme.
For any shops or companies that sell less than £100,000 of vapes you should sign up to the Distributor Takeback Scheme (DTS). A charge applies for this based on your shop’s size and your sales. The DTS provides an exemption from the in store take back requirement of WEEE (including vapes) when a new equivalent EEE item (a vape) is bought.
What is in a disposable vape?
Disposable vapes contain the same components and materials as reusable vapes. They often have a smaller tank and battery, a cheaper plastic exterior, and parts that aren’t normally removable. What’s in a disposable vape is a:
- Plastic exterior
- Lithium-ion battery
- Small tank to store the e-liquid
- Cotton wick
- Metal coil
Can you recycle disposable vapes?
You can recycle disposable vapes. Place them in a vape disposal bin, return them to an electrical retailer, or recycle them with WEEE items at your local HWRC. They’ll be transported to a recycling facility where the vapes are dismantled and separated into their components.
These components are checked, sorted, cleaned, and recycled alongside the same materials. The only element of a vape that can’t be recycled is the cotton wick, as it will be heavily contaminated and may even be burnt. Learn more about how each part of a vape is recycled based on its material in our comprehensive guides:
Where to dispose of disposable vapes
There are three main places where you can dispose of disposable vapes responsibly:
- Vape disposal bins – many vape shops now have specific vape disposal bins to collect used disposable vapes, which are then recycled.
- Electrical and electronic retailers – electrical stores larger than 400 square metres must take back small WEEE items (including most vapes) for free, wherever they were bought. These are then recycled properly.
- Household waste recycling centres (HWRCs) – check your local HWRC as most accept disposable vapes in their WEEE bins, which should ensure they’re recycled rather than going to landfill.
How can businesses dispose of old vapes?
Businesses must arrange commercial waste collection of any old vapes they produce. This could be through customer returns, staff getting rid of old vapes, or any other means. Removal by licensed waste carriers and recycling is vital and a legal requirement. The easiest way to do this is with WEEE bins and collections.
At Business Waste, we can provide free WEEE bins in a range of sizes to store old vapes safely on your premises. Then arrange collection on a schedule that suits you – either a one-off removal or regular collections. Licensed waste carriers remove your WEEE bins and ensure it’s recycled and disposed of responsibly.
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