It’s time to admit that your Elf Bar habit is killing the planet

We throw away two disposable vapes every second in the UK

Do you put your Elf Bar in the bin? Or do you take it apart, recycle the plastic casing and bring the battery to your local battery recycling centre? You don’t have to lie. It goes in the bin. And to be honest, that’s better than some of your mates. How many times have you left a pub, club or festival and seen them on the ground?

In the last year, Elf Bars have exploded in popularity. A study from earlier this year found Elf Bar and Geek Bar together make up 60 per cent of all disposable vape sales in the UK. On TikTok, the hashtag #elfbar has 984 million views and it’s a number that continues to rise. Whilst Elf Bars, like all vapes, are significantly better for your lungs than smoking, our society’s collective Elf Bar phase is killing the planet, one lithium battery and non-degradable colourful plastic casing at a time. Us Brits are so hooked to single-use vapes that it is estimated we throw two away every second in the UK.

A survey by Opinium found that we buy roughly 168 million disposable vapes in the UK each year. Scott Butler, executive director at Material Focus, a non-profit organisation focused on recycling electricals, told The Bureau of Investigative Journalism he believes the issue stems from the fact “somebody looks at [a vape] and doesn’t really think about what it’s made of, they think about what it does for them”.

What’s inside a disposable vape?

One of the key reasons Elf Bars are so bad for the environment is they are seemingly not designed to be taken apart easily. Beyond, the plastic casing and mouthpiece, inside an Elf Bar there is a synthetic fibre which is soaked in nicotine salt e-liquid, a metal heating coil, an LED light which lights up when it detects airflow and a lithium battery.

Cigarette butts take up to 10 years to decompose. Your Elf Bar however is not going to biodegrade. A disposable vape left on the ground or sent to landfill will only ever break down into microplastics and chemicals which can then enter the soil or waterways.

What happens when I bin my vape?

It’s not just the act of filling up our landfills that is damaging the environment. Disposable vapes contain approximately 0.15g of lithium but when you multiply that across all the vapes we throw away, it means 10 tonnes of lithium ends up in landfill each year.

Mark Miodownik, UCL professor of materials and society, explained: “Lithium is one of the things that is going to fuel the green economy.

“It’s in your laptop, it’s in your mobile phone, it’s in electric cars. This is the material that we are absolutely relying on to shift away from fossil fuels. We need to take care of every bit of lithium.”

According to a report by the International Energy Agency, lithium demand will increase sixfold by 2030. The same report said that our ability to recycle the metal will be crucial from 2030 onwards to help manage the demand of the finite resource.

What about if I put my vape in the recycling?

The unused e-liquid within a thrown away Elf Bar is classified as a biocide which means it needs to be disposed of differently to the lithium battery which can be recycled by a battery recycling programme. Despite the plastic appearance from the outside making it appear it can be recycled, the different internal components mean putting your Elf Bar in the regular recycling passes the problem onto recycling centres and doesn’t solve the environmental problem.

Lithium batteries can become damaged as they move from your recycling bin to a recycling centre. Stuart Hayward-Higham, technical development director at SUEZ recycling and recovery UK warned what can happen if they are damaged.

“If a lithium battery is compromised in transit and is pierced, it may spontaneously ignite like a firework,” he said.

Should more be done by the producers?

According to the Institute of Environmental Management and Assessment (IEMA), there are currently no disposable vape recycling schemes in the UK on a large enough scale to meet demand.

The Institute also says due to the explosion in popularity of disposable vapes and the lack of standardised batteries, it is “hit and miss if you take one to a local refuse centre” they’ll be properly recycled “even with battery recycling provision”.

When I reached out to Elf Bar to ask it how consumers could recycle their Elf Bar, the company responded by directing me to an Instagram post which you can see below.

In the post, Elf Bar say it’s “a brand leading the way in recycling for a better tomorrow”. After following the direction of the post which says to email [email protected], UK Plug responded and said you could post your Elf Bar to their shop in Sunderland to have it recycled.

Scott Butler said: “It needs to be made significantly easier for many people to do the right thing, because most people want to do the right thing.”

According to Tom Pashby, a journalist at the IEMA, the government is “currently reviewing proposals for something called Extended Producer Responsibility” which could give vape manufacturers greater responsibility to recycle disposable vapes and incentivise the reuse of materials.

Elf Bar has been approached for comment

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Featured image before edits via Bakhrom Tursunov on Unsplash