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Radio 4 Lays Into Disposables

As predicted by Planet of the Vape News at the start of January, disposables are now firmly in the spotlight – and Radio 4 show You and Yours looked at the environmental impact

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Planet of the Vape News predicted that 2023 would see a growing rise in pressure on disposable products and manufacturers. Coming at the same time as a move to ban disposables in Parliament, BBC Radio 4’s show You and Yours looked at the environmental impact of disposable products, the lack of adherence to WEEE regulations by the industry, and took UKVIA’s John Dunne to task.

No one thought about how much litter would come from disposable vapes”, says Radio 4’s Winifred Robinson as she introduced a section on the programme You and Yours. “Not the Government, certainly. The Department for Rural Affairs said in a recent report about waste electricals that it hadn’t explored the kind of problems around this waste; it is looking at those problems now and it wants the industry to pay for the collection and recycling of used vapes.”

The issue highlighted here is that some people were very much on point at the outset of the boom in disposable sales – members of the Planet of the Vapes forum. We weren’t alone. Online discussions about the issues surrounding disposables were joined by vendors and advertisers on the forum. In addition, retailers contacted our news desk to explain how they were making little profit from them and wish they could delist the items.

The problem wasn’t so much that “No one thought about” the problems disposables caused, it was that the manufacturing industry, the bodies they belonged to, and politicians weren’t listening to us.

Three million disposable vapes are sold in the UK every week, and more than a million of them are just thrown away – often on the streets. You can see them everywhere, the finger-sized, brightly coloured plastic tubes. It isn’t just the plastic, every one of them has a lithium battery inside and they should be recycled as electronic waste. Campaigners would like that to be much easier to do,” continued Robinson.

The feature moves on to the Dundee-based PhD student who collects discarded waste products and is calling for a complete ban on disposable vapes – it’s a call that is gaining a lot of traction in the media, with campaign groups, and a number of politicians (including two ex-health secretaries.

The industry has been asked to respond, and the UK’s Association’s Director General [SIC], John Dunne, said at the end of January that there had been ‘genuine confusion in the sector about its responsibilities under the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive’[WEEE].”

The Scottish student, Laurie Young, called this “nonsense”, as it didn’t take her long to discover what the requirements on businesses are to implement take back and recycling schemes.

If there has been confusion, why hasn’t the industry reached out to the waste industry, the Government, for organisations to ask and clarify? They’ve let this problem run on and it’s taken litter pickers and organisations who are really concerned to be the ones to raise the flag and say it’s just not good enough.”

You and Yours spoke to UKVIA’s John Dunne.

Dunne responded: “Well, first of all, the Minister herself has made it quite clear that her own department has not really looked at this information. We’ve been looking at it for probably about a year, we’ve had meetings with DEFRA, we actually focussed a specific panel on this subject at our recent forum in London where we had all of the stakeholders come together.

“We’re holding another roundtable meeting with all stakeholders from the recycling industry all the way through to manufacturing to look at how we can produce these products better, so that they’re easier to recycle, and that information will come from the recyclers themselves.”

Winifred Robinson pointed out that manufacturers have held a responsibility for recycling disposable waste since 2014 and stated that it’s “a pretty big oversight” if the industry “didn’t get that”.

Dunne was asked how much the industry currently contributes to the collection and treatment of waste products.

Well, every manufacturer has an obligation to sign up under the WEEE regulations,” he responded.

Robinson fired back: “So how could you not have known?”

If you look at the current legislation,” Dunne explained. “E-cigarettes are a one-line item under Category 7 with is ‘Toys, Leisure & Sporting Equipment’. They don’t have their own section, which is something the Minister herself highlighted.”

Because they weren’t ‘a thing’ were they,” interjected Robinson. “That’s no get out. If you were manufacturing, you had to sign up to the directive, you must have known.”

Well, absolutely,” Dunne replied. “But most manufacturers weren’t even aware of this. Your previous caller talks about stores are responsible for taking these products in, but most stores have no idea that they are responsible for taking these in.”

Planet of the Vapes raised the subject of recycling lithium cells back in 2015 – highlighting that it is a moral as much as a legal necessity. Our news section has been pressing the industry on the subject for the last 24 months. To date, we have received only one response from manufacturers, and that was a non-committal statement a year ago to say it was looking into the matter.

Ben, from battery vendor Fogstar, said in 2017: “Due to the amount of cells that Fogstar does put into the UK market we are required by law to comply the WEEE policy (to be honest all vape shops etc should also be registered). This means that you can drop your used cells off to me at the Unit and we will correctly and safely dispose of them for you.”

Disposable manufacturers and the two trade bodies do not need further talking shops, the problem is clear, the responsibilities are known, and the time to act decisively is now.


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Dave Cross

Journalist at POTV
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Dave is a freelance writer; with articles on music, motorbikes, football, pop-science, vaping and tobacco harm reduction in Sounds, Melody Maker, UBG, AWoL, Bike, When Saturday Comes, Vape News Magazine, and syndicated across the Johnston Press group. He was published in an anthology of “Greatest Football Writing”, but still believes this was a mistake. Dave contributes sketches to comedy shows and used to co-host a radio sketch show. He’s worked with numerous vape companies to develop content for their websites.

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