A total ban on disposable vapes is fast becoming a genuine prospect. And if it happens, arguably the sector has only itself to blame.

The call to outlaw single-use devices got still louder over the weekend, with the Local Government Association, which represents councils in England and Wales, urging the government to ban their manufacture and sale by 2024.

It’s little wonder. The devices are a major headache for local authorities. They “blight our streets as litter, are a hazard in our bin lorries, are expensive and difficult to deal with in our recycling centres”, explained Cllr David Fothergill, chairman of the LGA’s Community Wellbeing Board, at the weekend.

The negative impact of disposable vapes on the environment alone is clear. A report by the Ocean Conservancy states disposable vapes are among the 10 most collected items during beach clean-ups. According to a joint investigation by Material Focus and the Bureau of Investigative Journalism, more than 50% of single-use vapes get thrown away.

And the sector simply isn’t doing enough to bring that figure down.

Some stores allow customers to return any vape brands

The irony is disposable vapes are recyclable, and becoming more so. The new cardboard-outer Slix devices, recently listed in Morrisons, was found to be 99.3% recyclable and recoverable by Waste Experts, and take 57% less time to dismantle than rival brands in recycling facilities.

But that’s only if they get that far. Most consumers simply don’t recycle their devices, because they don’t know they need to; don’t know how to; or do know and can’t be bothered.

In recent months, major vape brands and retailers have introduced national recycling schemes.

ElfBar last month partnered with lithium recycling firm Recover, with bins placed in several stores for consumers to drop used (ElfBar-only) devices into. In May, Totally Wicked partnered with Veolia to place bins in more than 150 stores “allowing customers to return any brand of vape bought from any retailer for free”.

Does the sector really think a few bins in a few stores will solve its crisis? It’s still a big ask of vapers. Even those eager to recycle might find they can’t at their point of purchase.

An effort to reduce single-use vapes

The attitude of one vape retailer The Grocer spoke to appears all too prevalent. “Ultimately, it’s up to disposable vape users to educate themselves on correct disposal, to protect the environment and avoid unnecessary use of landfill sites,” they said. Meanwhile, vape trade bodies seem content that more bins and more posters about those bins will do the trick.

Some in the sector can see the seriousness of the situation into which it is sleepwalking. Among them, vape tech provider Smoore and its brand Feelm, which in May, with disposable brand Relx, introduced a scheme where vapers can pop 10 used disposables of any brand in the post for free, and get a free Relx disposable device in return.

The scheme extends to stores where dropping off spent devices earns in-store discounts.

If scaled up – the postage scheme is currently only available in London, Manchester and Birmingham, and store discounts in London – the effort could massively reduce the number of single-use devices discarded, and potentially see them picked from the streets in return for the reward. It’s a costly exercise, but not more damaging than a total ban, which is already being considered by France by the end of this year, and the European Union in 2026.

For now, the sector seems content to play lip service to environmental concerns. And that’s not enough of a response to what is fast becoming an existential threat.