Scotland has announced that the Government is considering a plan to ban disposable vape products.
Single-use electronic cigarettes, otherwise known as disposable vapes, have a proven negative influence on the environment.
These vaping products — made from plastic — have been fashioned to be used and then disposed of, meaning that the rubbish from disposable vapes could have negative impacts. These include some pollutants and industrial chemicals used to manufacture these products that could damage soil and water.
The Scottish Government announced a few days ago that it intends to adopt such a policy to ban disposable vapes as a means to counter single-use plastics and the potential for the chemical pollution brought on by high-tech manufacturing.
Many countries and municipalities worldwide have taken steps to reduce the use of single-use plastics and other disposable items, so it is not surprising that Scotland is considering such a ban.
“Any form of littering is an unacceptable, anti-social [behavior] that is damaging to the environment and the economy,” said Iain Gulland, chief executive officer of the nonprofit, non-governmental organization Zero Waste Scotland, in a joint statement with the Scottish Government.
“Single-use items, like disposable vapes, are becoming an all-too-common eyesore in areas where we live, work, and socialise, and can last in our environment for years and years. Tackling our throwaway culture is a priority here at Zero Waste Scotland, and we are happy to lead on this important review.” Zero Waste Scotland is a nonprofit charity group that leads the current policy environment with the Government of Scotland.
According to the Scottish Government’s policy on country-wide waste management, Scotland aims to be a “zero waste society with a circular economy.”
The type of circular economics is a production and consumption model involving sharing, leasing, reusing, repairing, refurbishing, and recycling existing materials and products as long as possible.
The Scottish Government’s waste management policy focuses on reusing products and upcycling. The motivation behind the new disposable vape ban derives from this vast governmental policy.
“Not only are single-use vapes bad for public health, they are also bad for the environment,” said Lorna Slater, MSP, the Scottish Government’s circular economy minister, in the same press statement as Zero Waste Scotland chief executive Iain Gulland.
“From litter on our streets, to the risk of fires in waste facilities, there are issues which need to be addressed urgently. We will consider the evidence and expert advice and come forward with policy options, which could include a potential ban on single-use vapes. In the meantime, we would urge everyone who uses these products to make sure they are disposed of properly,” Slater said.
Does this type of ban make sense?
The policy from Scotland is noteworthy, especially when governments in Western Europe, the United States, and the United Kingdom are looking for ways to reduce and eventually phase out single-use plastics. BBC reported in October 2022 that disposable vapes are popular among younger age groups in the United Kingdom, including the age group of 18-34 years of age.
These products are cheap. However, the environmental impact of disposable vapes is potentially as toxic as cigarette butts.
Note that cigarette butts are the most littered single-use plastic in the world. Electronic cigarettes, including disposable products, help reduce the waste of cigarette butts. However, the waste of these products is yet another issue. Even when cigarette butts can see a waste reduction from vaping and broader use of vapes among smokers looking for an off-ramp from cigarettes, the metal and high-tech components used to manufacture single-use disposable vapes can be harmful. Environmental and climate change campaigners argue that the ban on disposable vapes is necessary, especially in a country where vaping is endorsed as a non-pharmaceutical means to quit smoking, and that vaping reduces the risk of smoking combustibles by nearly 95 percent.
Further, the policy isn’t clear. If banning disposable vapes is a means to reduce waste and protect the environment, how does the government account for traditional cigarette butts’ harm to the environment? There is a minimal indication of continuity that needs to be addressed by the Scottish and UK governments.
UK regulations unclear
Nevertheless, the vape industry maintains that UK governmental disposal rules and regulations are unclear and need updating to clarify what recycling disposable vaping products are acceptable.
“You have to dig deep into the regulations to find any mention of e-cigarettes which could be down to the fact that when they were introduced at the beginning of 2014, disposable vapes were very much in their infancy,” said Mr. John Dunne to BBC in October.
He is the director general of the UK Vape Industry Association.
One of the criticisms is that the UK Department for Environment, Food, and Rural Affairs (DEFRA) needs to provide clarification of the regulations placed on an industry like vaping.
At the time of the BBC report last October, DEFRA said that the UK government would, “in due course,” layout plans to reform and clarify the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment (WEEE) disposal guidelines.
Vapes, including disposable ones, are classified under the WEEE identification. The proposed ban in Scotland attempts to take the national WEEE standards further with devolved policies prescribed with electronic cigarettes and vape products in mind.
Scotland’s current policies on vape disposal
The Scottish Government, via the same press statement we mentioned above, outlines its position on the correct format for disposing of electronic cigarettes and other vaping products.
Electronic cigarettes and vaping devices shouldn’t throw away in general waste receptacles. This is to help avoid the risk of fire.
Instead, E-cigarettes should be disposed of at small WEEE centers and receptacles accessible across the country. Also, the batteries in disposable vapes must be disposed of properly. Vape batteries are easy to remove, and these should be removed and disposed of in appropriate battery recycling receptacles.
The ban on disposable vaping products is also a component of the Tobacco Action Plan of the Scottish Government, which includes “a range of interventions with an emphasis on reducing smoking and vaping among children and young people” in Scotland.