The Scottish Government has commissioned an urgent review of the environmental impacts and management of single-use vapes. Zero Waste Scotland will lead the study, considering international experience and action, including any critical developments in the European Union. “Not only are single-use vapes bad for public health, but they are also bad for the environment. From litter on our streets to the risk of fires in waste facilities, there are issues which need to be addressed urgently,” Circular Economy Minister Lorna Slater said, “We will consider the evidence and expert advice and come forward with policy options, which could include a potential ban on single-use vapes.”
An urgent review
An urgent review of the environmental impacts and management of single-use vapes has been commissioned. The review, which comes in response to emerging concerns around the negative consequences of disposable devices, will inform potential policy responses, including a ban on the products. Disposable smoking devices have been linked to litter, plastic waste and fire risk. Zero Waste Scotland will lead the review, which will consider international experience and action, including any key developments in the European Union. Other approaches include increasing access to responsible disposal options, improved product design or public communications campaigns. Circular Economy Minister Lorna Slater said: “Not only are single-use vapes bad for public health, but they are also bad for the environment. From litter on our streets to the risk of fires in waste facilities, issues 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 urge everyone who uses these products to ensure they are disposed of properly.” Iain Gulland, Chief Executive of Zero Waste Scotland, said: “Any littering is unacceptable and anti-social behaviour damaging to the environment and the economy. Single-use items, like disposable vapes, are becoming an all-too-common eyesore in areas where we live, work, and socialise, and they 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.”
Posing a risk to the environment
As well as the plastic and chemicals inside posing a risk to wildlife and the environment, they contain precious lithium batteries – vital in the shift to Net Zero, such as through powering our electric cars. And even when thrown in the bin, the batteries can spark dangerous fires if mixed in with a general landfill. In October, the Irish Government launched a consultation on banning “wasteful” disposable vape products, citing concerns over littering. In Scotland, most single-use plastics were banned last year – but vapes were unaffected, and disposable brands have soared 14-fold in popularity since 2021 with users who are typically young people. To stop single-use items polluting Scotland’s seas we need to move towards a circular economy where products are repaired, refilled, recharged and reused.” Barry Fisher, CEO of Keep Scotland Beautiful, added: “Cigarette litter, in general, makes up the biggest chunk of litter we record across Scotland, and we know that single-use vapes are increasing as a new, unnecessary litter type. But the UK Vaping Industry Association has said a ban is a wrong option and that there needs to be “a recycling solution that is fit for purpose.”
Will this disposable face vape be banned?
Dundee-based climate activist Laura Young, dubbed the “vape crusader” due to her ongoing campaign against the devices, told Sky News she was “thrilled” with the Scottish Government’s response. She added: “I have full trust in a full and objective review from Zero Waste Scotland into the environmental impacts, and look forward to hearing the full picture here in Scotland regarding these products.” This review, and consideration of a ban, cannot come quick enough, as the rise of these devices puts our environment, waste workers, recycling infrastructure, and public health, particularly with a lens of young people, under tremendous pressure.” Ms Young noted that with “all things political”, any final decision would take time. She added: “Therefore, it is vital that in the interim we continue to hold vaping companies to the extended producer responsibility regulations and improve public awareness of how to dispose of these correctly through recycling.” ‘Tackling our throwaway culture is a priority’ Iain Gulland, chief executive of Zero Waste Scotland said, “any form of littering is unacceptable”.
“Tackling our throwaway culture is a priority here at Zero Waste Scotland, and we are happy to lead on this important review.” But, the vaping industry has hit out at the plans, with Neil McLaren, the co-CEO of Vaping.com/UK, saying: “This virtue signalling move from Holyrood reeks of hypocrisy since they’re happy to keep cigarettes on the market. The additional tax revenues must be important. Tobacco duty is not set or paid by the Scottish Government; as a reserved tax, it is handled by the UK government. Mr McLaren added: “Yousaf should work on reducing the smoking rate in Scotland – which has the highest smoking rates in Britain – instead of carping on about vapes. “If they encourage smokers to switch instead of banning vapes, they can make a real difference to public health and the planet.”
Other aspects of the review
Almost all of the 3.65 billion cigarettes smoked in Scotland each year contain a filter made from plastic cellulose acetate. These can take more than ten years to decompose and leach out thousands of toxic chemicals that pollute seas and rivers and harm marine life. In the last year, the Marine Conservation Societyʼs beach clean and litter surveys have seen volunteers remove more than 1,200 cigarette butts from 129 Scottish sites. In recent months, there has also been a noticeable rise in the quantity of disposable vaping products contributing to pollution across the country. Catherine Gemmell, Scotland conservation officer for the Marine Conservation Society environmental charity, said: “Cigarette stubs have consistently made it into the top 12 most common items polluting Scotlandʼs beaches over the last five years. “We are calling on the Scottish Government to take world-leading legislative action to tackle single-use plastic cigarette filters and smoking litter. “We need to encourage and support action to ensure smoking-related litter is properly disposed of, so it cannot damage the health of Scotlandʼs people and environment.” Sheila Duffy, chief executive of health and anti-smoking charity ASH Scotland, said: “Cigarette filters continue to be a significant source of plastics pollution with an estimated 600,000kg of waste – enough to fill 50 bin lorries – threatening Scotlandʼs environment each year.
“Single-use items such as cigarette filters and vaping products can last in our environment for years and years, so we must be sure these are disposed of correction “prevention is always better than cure, and by changing our attitudes towards litter, we can all make a positive difference. “Ending Scotlandʼs throwaway society begins with the basics – not dropping items in our environment but in a bin, where they belong.” According to the World Health Organization, the tobacco industry plays a big role in the global climate crisis – including chopping down 600 million trees each year to make cigarettes and contributing 84 million tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions annually.