Wednesday 4 October 2023

Producer Responsibility Needed for Vape Disposal: Clean Up Australia and WMRR

Clean Up Australia and the Waste Management and Resource Recovery Association of Australia (WMRR) have teamed up to call on the Australian Government to enforce a producer responsibility scheme for the safe disposal of vapes. 

 With the Australian and NSW Governments announcing crackdowns on the sale and marketing of non-prescription vapes, it is time to deal with not only the sale of them, but also their disposal. The government crackdown presents the perfect opportunity for managing end of life as vapes are not just a public health emergency Australia-wide, but an environmental one too.

 Currently, there is no safe disposal pathway for these hazardous products which are a major cause of fires in waste trucks, processing facilities and landfills. 

 Preliminary data from Clean Up Australia’s volunteers in 2023 indicate more than half of all sites are reporting vapes littered in the environment.

 Under current regulations, disposal often falls between the cracks and is subject to different waste regimes across the country – none of which are best practice – leading to danger and confusion. Vapes usually contain a mixture of toxic chemicals, lithium-ion batteries and single use plastic, so they need to be disposed of carefully and correctly.

 Due to the battery being embedded, vapes are not included in the nationwide Battery Stewardship Scheme meaning they cannot be dropped off at battery recycling points, like supermarkets and retailers.

 Consumers are often confused and put them in general waste, which is contrary to the ‘don’t bin your batteries’ message due to the risk of fire if they are crushed or damaged. Authorities believe the incorrect disposal of a battery was the cause of a fire which destroyed the ACT’s recycling plant in December 2022.  

 Chair of Clean Up Australia Pip Kiernan said for years cigarette butts have been the most littered item in Australia but vape litter is emerging as a new and serious environmental issue.

 “At the moment, there is no standardised or consistent way to collect and safely dispose and recover vapes in Australia, with the onus of figuring out how to safely dispose of them is with the consumer, when really it should be for the producer to provide,” she said.

 “There is an urgent, overdue need for a safe system for the disposal of vapes devices, refills and e-liquids.  There is currently no federal or state legislation governing end-of-life disposal for vapes. They are simultaneously classified as e-waste because of their electronic components, and as hazardous waste due to the liquid nicotine residue, making recycling difficult.”

“We need to set clear national standards on environmentally responsible disposal of this waste and hold the industry accountable for adhering to them,” Ms Kiernan said.

WMRR Chief Executive Officer Gayle Sloan said it’s clear the companies producing and supplying vapes will not take action unless forced by government. Now that government is managing how producers place these on market, they also need to ensure producers manage their lifecycle and cost of disposal.

“The evidence is in. These products start fires, put our workers at risk and they litter our environment. If ever there was a case for producer responsibility nationally, this is it,” Ms Sloan said.

“It’s only logical that the companies which make these things should be responsible for their disposal and perhaps that could be through their point of sale at places like chemists or tobacconists, so now is the time for the Federal government when regulating sale to also regulate end of life.

“It not good enough that the waste and resource recovery industry is left to deal with these dangerous items, putting our workers and infrastructure in danger, when there is no appropriate disposal pathway.

“The Australian Government is rightly taking world leading action to tighten legislation around the distribution, packaging and quality of vapes. It must also take world leading action to deal with their safe disposal before another facility is destroyed.”

Ms Kiernan said the problem of vape waste is emblematic of a larger problem – new products can be introduced into the market with no regard for the safe disposal of their component parts when their useful life comes to an end.

“Clean Up Australia joins with WMRR in calling for Federal Ministers to work together to develop a strong product stewardship scheme to close the loop on vapes, to ensure manufacturers take responsibility for the entire lifecycle of their products, including recycling and end-of-life disposal,” Ms Kiernan said.