Up to 26 million disposable vapes were consumed and thrown away in Scotland in the last year, of which an estimated 10 per cent were littered and more than half were incorrectly disposed of, according to a report published today.

In January 2023 the Scottish Government commissioned Zero Waste Scotland to carry out a review of the environmental impact of and potential policy options for improving the management of single-use e-cigarettes, reducing pollution and enhancing the safe recycling of the products they contain.

The review estimates:

  • In 2022 10.8% of the adult population were regular users of e-cigarettes and that of these, more than a quarter (27%) were estimated to be users of single-use e-cigarettes
  • In the 52 weeks to early April 2023, the number of disposable vapes consumed in Scotland was estimated to be between 21 and 26 million units
  • The lithium polymer batteries used in some of the most popular e-cigarettes could be recharged 500 times if the product allowed for such
  • The total emissions associated with single-use vapes in 2022 was estimated to be between 3375 and 4292 tonnes CO2e – the equivalent of around 2,100 cars on Scotland’s roads.
  • The weight of packaging and materials discarded as a result of single-use e-cigarette consumption in Scotland is currently between 800 and 1,000 tonnes per year
  • In the year ending January 2023, there were 543,000 vapers in Scotland – of which 51,000 (9%) were under 16 and 78,000 (14%) were under 18. Most under 18 e-cigarette users prefer single use vapes.

This report recommends a shortlist of nine high level potential policy options to be considered further by Ministers, from which the Scottish Government may prioritise further policy work to address these environmental impacts.

Lorna Slater, Minister for Circular Economy, Green Skills and Biodiversity said:

“This report shows that single use vapes have become a big problem – for our environment, local communities and young people. I will take action and will engage with those affected, including young people, over the coming months, with a view to setting out a way forward in the Autumn.

Single use vapes are an issue across the UK, so I have invited Ministers from the other UK governments to meet to discuss the findings of the report and what we can do in response.

“Those who sell single use vapes are already required to take them back for safe disposal, or contribute to the cost of recycling, but this is clearly not happening as it should. I will therefore write to the UK Minister responsible to share our findings and to ask what they will do to ensure these obligations are met.”

The report shortlists nine potential measures to address environmental impacts of single use e-cigarettes, including a ban on sales, regulations to set certain design criteria, and charges to encourage behaviour change or producer fees to offset the environmental costs, such as a levy based on recycling rates. The report assesses the potential of each option for reducing environmental impact and the benefits of multiple measures in combination.

Iain Gulland, Chief Executive, Zero Waste Scotland said:

“Any form of littering is unacceptable – it damages the environment, economy, and is a blight on the areas where we live, work, and socialise. Single use vapes are made up of components which, unless disposed of safely and responsibly, can last on our planet for years and years. And the sight of them, discarded on our streets, is becoming far too common.

“This is why Zero Waste Scotland was happy to lead on this important report. Tackling our throwaway culture is a priority for us and we will continue to work with the Scottish Government in highlighting the huge impact that littering these items has on the environment.”

To read the report see here Zero Waste Scotland report