Escape the Vapes: Scientists Call for Global Shift to Curb Consumer Use of Disposable Technologies

Scientists have called for a concerted global effort to stem the tide of disposable electronic technologies – such as vapes – contributing to international waste accumulation and environmental degradation.

Writing in the journal Science, researchers from across the UK have highlighted how disposable vape sales quadrupled in the UK between 2022 and 2023, with consumers now throwing away around 5 million devices each week.

In the United States, 4.5 disposable vapes are thrown away each second, and it is fast becoming an issue replicated right across the world.

One of the main upshots, scientists say, is that vapes and other disposable technologies including mini-fans and single-use headphones often contain valuable resources such as lithium and other rare earth elements.

These elements are increasingly being seen as critical for green industries such as electric vehicles, but their use in existing devices has significantly diminished their global availability.

And while the technology is marketed as recyclable, it is sold without clear recycling instructions and offers minimal incentives to consumers to return the valuable materials once they have finished using them.

To address this, the researchers have called for urgent reform of disposable electronics practices in the technology industry, to avoid continued resource depletion and environmental degradation.

They have also said the premise of disposal electronics and other single-use items should be questioned at its core, and that such products “may be too dangerous in the long term to justify keeping them on the market”.

The letter has been authored by experts in environmental science, materials science, marine biology, consumer behaviour and ethics from Abertay University, University of Dundee, University College London and the University of Plymouth.

Their call comes as world leaders are meeting in Ottawa, Canada, for the fourth session of the Intergovernmental Negotiating Committee (INC-4) convened to negotiate an international and legally binding Global Plastics Treaty.

It also follows recent legislation introduced in countries including the UK and Australia to limit the availability of disposable vapes, as part of a wider drive to reduce the impact of smoking and electronic alternatives.

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