Call for vape reform to protect waste industry

vape waste

The Waste Management and Resource Recovery Association of Australia (WMRR) is calling for urgent government action to address disposal of single use vapes.

Each week vapes are responsible for multiple fires in waste facilities and trucks across Australia.

Currently, there is no safe disposal pathway for vapes as they contain an embedded battery, which is not included in the nationwide Battery Stewardship Scheme. This means users often throw them in the rubbish bin where they are increasingly causing fires in waste trucks, processing facilities and landfills.

“Battery fires are one of the biggest issues facing our sector and many are started by vapes. It’s only a matter of time before one of our workers is seriously injured and we have already seen a significant facility damaged,” WMRR Chief Executive Officer Gayle Sloan said.

“The risk of fire doesn’t just end with the banning of disposable vapes because we know there is a significant black market. They still need to be dealt with wholistically, because the fire risk from a legal or illegal vape is exactly the same – as is the lack of an end-of-life pathway.”

The Federal Government has $737 million in funding identified in the 2023-24 budget to address this harm. In a joint letter with Clean Up Australia on 12 October 2023, WMRR called for the funding to be used to address end-of-life of vapes, be it a product stewardship scheme for therapeutic vapes with chemists or an alternative government funded take back scheme.

An Environment Ministers Meeting on 10 November noted “common concerns around batteries across jurisdictions, particularly around lithium-ion batteries and safety risk”. The Queensland government will lead work across jurisdictions that might inform future regulatory actions.

Sloan said the risk is now and requires both urgency and action.

“We also recognise black market operators cannot and will not be part of a stewardship scheme, therefore we need government funding now to address this significant safety issue,” she said.

“Australia has stated it will be a circular economy by 2030 which means that any legislation passed by this government requires consideration of the lifecycle of products – this piece is clearly missing in the government’s current vapes reform.

“It is 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. We need an appropriate disposal pathway as part of this reform.”

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