Single use vapes spark surge in blazes warns Zurich Municipal

Three disposable vapes are being binned incorrectly every second in the UK, causing a surge in fires in council refuse trucks and waste processing plants, according to a study by Zurich Municipal.

Research by the public sector insurer found that 78%2of the 138m single use vapes sold every year in the UK are dumped in general waste, instead of being recycled. It means more than two million single use vapes are thrown away improperly every week.

The study reveals widespread consumer confusion over the correct way to dispose of spent vapes, with three out of four (72%) users unaware the devices cannot be binned in household waste or recycling. As a result, 107 million disposable vapes a year are ending up in the general waste stream, where they are being blamed for a sharp rise in fires.

Freedom of Information data obtained by Zurich Municipal shows the number of bin lorries hit by blazes has leapt 62% in the last two years. Fire crews in the UK were called to 125 fires in 2022, up from just 77 in 2020. Alarmingly, the data shows house fires sparked by vapes have also more than doubled in two years from 59 in 2020 to 123 in 2022 – an increase of 108%.

Alix Bedford, risk proposition manager at Zurich Municipal, said: “While councils have long battled the nuisance of cigarette litter, single use vapes are emerging as an altogether more complex and hazardous problem. Flammable lithium batteries inside vapes pose a hidden danger to waste and recycling workers and are causing costly damage and disruption to waste management services.

“With house fires sparked by disposable and rechargeable vapes also on the rise, the government must take a lead in driving consumer awareness to curb this growing threat.”
Single use vapes, which last around 600 puffs, can be discarded at household recycling centres or at retailers that sell the devices or other electrical items. However, a majority of the 1,000 vape users surveyed by Zurich Municipal said they typically binned disposable vapes in household waste (41%), street bins (28%), household recycling (27%) and at work (20%). Just 15% said they use a local authority recycling site while only 13% returned used vapes to retailers. Just 15% of consumers knew larger stores that sell small electrical items – such as supermarkets – offer take back schemes for vapes and other items that contain lithium batteries.

Bedford added: “A lack of consumer knowledge around the safe disposal of vapes is putting lives and property at risk. The government should launch a national consumer campaign to raise awareness of the correct way to dispose of vapes, and other items powered by lithium batteries. As the prevalence of lithium batteries grows, ministers should also explore a fully funded kerbside collection service for waste electricals, including vapes.”

Zurich also called for the government to create a separate category for vapes under Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment recycling regulations, to ensure vapes can be collected and recycled in a safe way.

    Share Story:


Deborah Ritchie speaks to Chief Inspector Tracy Mortimer of the Specialist Operations Planning Unit in Greater Manchester Police's Civil Contingencies and Resilience Unit; Inspector Darren Spurgeon, AtHoc lead at Greater Manchester Police; and Chris Ullah, Solutions Expert at BlackBerry AtHoc, and himself a former Police Superintendent. For more information click here

Modelling and measuring transition and physical risks
CIR's editor, Deborah Ritchie speaks with Giorgio Baldasarri, global head of the Analytical Innovation & Development Group at S&P Global Market Intelligence; and James McMahon, CEO of The Climate Service, a S&P Global company. April 2023