An innovation that is really making the world a worse place: why The Rivers Trust is supporting a ban on single-use vapes in Ireland

In a radio interview last October, Irish Minister of State Ossian Smyth was clear that single-use disposable vapes need to be banned completely” because, as he has pointed out, they are an example of an innovation that is really making the world a worse place.

Matthew Woodard


The Minister of State at the Department of the Environment, Climate and Communications, with special responsibility for Communications and the Circular Economy, was able to quickly act on his concerns. In June 2023, he launched a consultation on the future of single-use disposable vapes in Ireland. The options offered are a complete ban, establishing a deposit and return system for disposable vaping devices or making no legislative change but improving the producer responsibility scheme to ensure all producers placing devices on the market are registered to support increased recycling.

This is a timely response because, in the last two years, single-use disposable vapes have surged in popularity in Ireland, appealing to consumers seeking a convenient alternative to traditional smoking. With their sleek design and ease of use, these devices have gained traction among smokers and non-smokers alike.

Figures suggest there are at least 500,000 adults actively vaping in Ireland, with two-thirds disposing of vapes improperly. But the problem of single-use vape pollution extends well beyond Ireland. In Scotland, up to 26 million disposable vapes were consumed and thrown away last year, of which an estimated 10 per cent were littered, and more than half were incorrectly disposed of. While in the UK, the Local Government Association says 1.3m vapes are thrown away each week and wants them banned by 2024.

Unfortunately, the allure of convenience comes at a hefty environmental cost. Plastic, the primary component of disposable vapes, is one of the most enduring materials on the planet. These lightweight devices may be convenient to carry around, but their improper disposal poses a significant threat to our ecosystems. When discarded irresponsibly, disposable vapes find their way into rivers, streams, and oceans, contributing to the global plastic pollution crisis.

The contents of disposable vapes go beyond plastic; they often contain harmful chemicals, including nicotine and heavy metals like mercury, lithium, and cadmium. When these devices are carelessly discarded, these toxic substances leach into the environment, contaminating soil and water sources. Aquatic life and vegetation can suffer adverse health effects, upsetting the delicate balance of our ecosystems.

The staggering number of single-use vapes sold annually has led to a littering epidemic in many countries. In Ireland, smoking-related rubbish makes up a significant portion of litter pollution, marring our landscapes, riverbanks, and beaches. Unsightly and harmful, now these discarded vapes not only tarnish the natural beauty of our environment but also pose threats to fish and wildlife that may ingest the plastics and toxins or are choked by the debris.

Recycling presents a potential solution, but the reality is far from satisfactory. Confusion among consumers about how to recycle disposable vapes, coupled with limited recycling options, has resulted in disappointingly low recycling rates. As a result, many of these devices, along with their hazardous components, end up polluting our precious waterways.

We agree with Minister of State Ossian Smyth, and this is why we are supporting a ban on single-use disposable vapes in Ireland. While some innovations have the potential to improve our lives, it is crucial to critically examine their impacts on the environment. Single-use disposable vapes serve as a stark reminder that our non-essential conveniences should never come at the cost of our planet's health. By raising awareness, advocating for change, and making conscious consumer choices, we can collectively contribute to a cleaner, greener future where innovation works in harmony with the well-being of our freshwater environment.

To read our consultation response, click here.

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