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J&B Recycling Knowledge

Disposable vapes - fire hazard

Thousands of disposable vapes recovered from kerbside recycling waste streams

J&B Recycling, a leading waste management company based in the North East of England, has recovered thousands of disposable vapes from local authority and commercial kerbside recycling contracts in the first quarter of 2023. Whilst this achievement highlights J&B Recycling’s commitment to responsible waste management, it also emphasises the pressing issue regarding the potential dangers of vapes in the waste management process.

Disposable vapes, also known as electronic cigarettes or e-cigarettes, have gained popularity in recent years as an alternative to traditional tobacco products. However, due to their design and components, disposable vapes can pose significant fire risks and potential dangers when mishandled or improperly disposed of.

One of the primary fire risks associated with disposable vapes is their lithium-ion batteries. These batteries, commonly found in disposable vape devices, can be susceptible to overheating, short-circuiting, and even exploding if damaged or mishandled. Improper disposal of vapes, including throwing them in regular waste bins or recycling containers, can lead to accidental activation of these hazardous batteries, increasing the risk of fires in waste management facilities.

Recognising the potential risks and dangers associated with disposable vapes, J&B Recycling has taken proactive measures to recover these devices from the thousands of tonnes of waste they process on behalf of local authorities and businesses across the North of England and Scotland every week. By implementing specialised processes and protocols, the company ensures the safe handling, disposal, and recycling of disposable vapes to minimise the environmental impact and mitigate fire risks.

Disposable vapes are expensive to recycle, so at present this comes at an unprecedented cost to J&B Recycling, estimated to be in the region of £100,000+ per year based on current market conditions. They are expensive to recycle due to their complex construction, the presence of hazardous materials, the small size and low material value of individual devices, the fragmented market with various designs and components, and the limited availability of specialist recycling programs.

Mark Penny, Commercial Manager at J&B Recycling, is frustrated by this. He says: “Legislation is already in place to protect us from this significant expenditure, which for some smaller businesses could be crippling, but the compliance schemes, who should be managing and enforcing take back schemes, don’t have the funds to do it because the billion pound vape industry isn’t making a big enough contribution to the recovery scheme. In the meantime, the waste management industry is left to foot both the recovery bill”.

The Environmental Agency recently announced that vapes (including disposable vapes) shouldn’t be incinerated and they must be recycled. At present, this leaves waste management companies like J&B Recycling, with no other option than to send vapes that have been recovered through the sorting process, to specialist recycling schemes, which are very costly. But Mark believes this shouldn’t be the case.

He says: “According to the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Regulations 2013, vape producers have a legal responsibility to finance the take back of vapes for recycling. So, in theory, any vapes collected by waste management companies, like ours, across the UK should be sent, without cost, to a scheme to be recycled. But this is not happening because these schemes do not exist.”

J&B Recycling have written to two of the largest WEEE compliance schemes in the UK requesting information about where we can take the thousands of vapes arriving at our facility every week, but one is yet to respond and the other has replied to say they are awaiting further guidance to be published by the regulators (DEFRA and the Environmental Agency), as well as those in the devolved nations.

They went on to say: “Currently the funding mechanism doesn’t cover the cost of collecting and recycling the Vapes, even from municipal recycling centres. This, combined with the fact that the actual cost of treatment is much higher than the WEEE stream in which vapes fit (Small Domestic Appliances / Small Mixed WEEE), leaves us all in a position whereby the financing is lacking.”

We understand that lots of WEEE treatment operators are storing the vapes they receive until such time as the funding mechanisms are in place. But when will this be? It is an untenable solution for many with the number of disposable vapes pouring in.

In conclusion

J&B Recycling's commitment to promoting sustainable waste management practices has earned us local and national recognition as industry experts over the last 25 years. We hope that our public stance against disposable vapes helps raise awareness of this serious environmental issue disposable vapes are creating, and helps consumers understand that they have a responsibility to make informed choices about the products they use and dispose of. If you must vape, PLEASE opt for re-usable vapes.

J&B Recycling provide waste management solutions for local authorities and businesses across the North of England. Our main Materials Recovery Facility (MRF) is based in Hartlepool and we have a second site in Middlesbrough, making us ideally placed for collections across Teesside (Hartlepool, Stockton, Middlesbrough and Darlington). We also have a site in Washington and we operate established collection routes throughout Durham, Gateshead, Newcastle, Sunderland, North Tyneside and Northumberland. Please don't hesitate to get in touch if we can help with your waste collection.

Related Content

- Guide to disposing of Electrical Waste (WEEE)
Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Recycling & Disposal
Ignorance is not bliss if you don’t comply with WEEE regulations
- J&B warns against throwing your old electricals in the recycling
Can vapes be recycled?
- Why are vapes bad for the environment?

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