Ninety per cent of smaller vape and vape juice producers in the UK are breaching environmental regulations, according to new research that accuses the vast majority of the sector of failing to comply with e-waste rules that require them to cover collection and recycling costs associated with their products.
The report also highlights the huge environmental footprint arising from booming demand for disposable vapes that are routinely not recycled.
The analysis from electrical recycling not for profit Material Focus found the 138 million single use vapes sold in the UK every year contain enough lithium to produce 2,500 electric vehicle batteries and enough copper to wire more than 370,000 home charging stations.
However, an estimated 1.3 million vapes are simply littered or binned every week - enough to cover 22 football pitches or around two every second on average.
Calculations produced in tandem with the Financial Times based on data from EuroMonitor and ECigIntelligence estimate that the cost of recycling disposable single-use vapes bought in the UK could reach up to £69m a year.
The study, which covered over 150 UK vape and vape juice producers, found that only 16 had signed up to environmental regulations for responsible electrical, portable battery, and packaging disposal.
However, each of the companies analysed was a member of a vape industry trade association, such as the UK Vaping Industry Association or Independent British Vape Trade Association, and also registered their products with the Medicines and Healthcare Products Regulatory Agency.
Under e-waste rules companies must register as a producer every year depending on how many electricals they sell, with those selling more than five tonnes per year required to pay to join a Producer Compliance Scheme to take on companies obligations to finance collection, treatment, recovering and disposal.
In addition to the loss of materials potentially valuable in the manufacture of green technology, disposable single use vapes also contain toxic materials such as nicotine liquid, contribute to plastic waste, and pose a fire risk if they are not disposed through approved waste streams.
As such, Scott Butler, executive director of Material Focus described disposable single-use vapes as a "quadruple environmental threat".
"The environmental responsibilities of vape producers are very clear," he said. "Any company that is producing significant quantities of electrical items is required to register, report their sales and finance the cost of their product being recycled. Retailers are also responsible for ensuring that it's easy for their customers to recycle these products by providing recycling drop off points in their stores.
"It is shocking that it seems that the majority of the smaller vape producers in the UK aren't complying with these long-standing environmental regulations. And for those larger producers that have only recently registered, they need to bear the full costs of collecting and recycling these complex to recycle products which may mean paying significantly higher fees than they are currently paying. As sales and profits have boomed the environmental impacts and costs of collecting and recycling waste vapes have been disregarded."
Butler also called on disposable single-use vape consumers to pressure retailers to make it possible for them to drop off used vapes in store.
"Vape producers, importers and retailers need to be held to account, and step up to the plate by making sure that we do not lose the precious materials contained inside these vapes," he said. "Anything with a plug, battery or cable can be recycled.
"To find your nearest recycling point please search ‘recycle your electricals', and you will find many household recycling centres will receive vapes and all your other old electricals to be recycled."
The report follows an open letter from green groups to the Environment Secretary last autumn, which called on the government to move quickly to ban disposable vapes given their huge environmental impact and the availability of refillable alternatives.