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Guest blog: Rowan Barnes at Material Focus on Tackling Vapes and Electrical Waste at Events

The rise in disposable vapes is the thorn in the side of effective festival waste management and circular economy initiatives, and the latest sustainability challenge to crop up as part of the ongoing single use plastic saga. In this guest blog, Rowan Barnes, Projects Coordinator at Material Focus, shares some insights into the problem, what event organisers can do to tackle them and outlines a funding opportunity to supply and trial vape bins at festivals who want to take part in a flagship partnership campaign.

Material Focus have just produced Vapes and Electricals – Briefing for festivals and events (June 2024)  Read Rowan’s insights from the report:

Vaping facts and figures

Classed as hazardous waste, disposable vapes pose a significant and ongoing sustainability challenge. Disposable vapes are one of the most environmentally wasteful, damaging and dangerous consumer products available to buy. They leak toxins, waste precious materials such as lithium, and contribute to over 1,200 fires in the waste system caused by the batteries inside them being crushed or damaged. 

Vaping has become an increasingly popular alternative to smoking over the past decade – in fact, 7.7 million single-use vapes are bought every week in the UK. We’ve seen a rise in the colourful variety of cheap ‘disposable’ vapes, as readily available from local retailers and corner shops as buying a kit-kat. Yet although these vapes can – and should always – be recycled, our latest research revealed that nearly 5 million single-use vapes are thrown away every week. This is equivalent to 8 per second being thrown away – almost four times the number since the research was first conducted in 2022.

You need only stand in a festival crowd to know these vapes are popular among festival goers, or see the aftermath of discarded or crushed vape pens, cartridges and batteries. Other cheap, throwaway, electricals are also increasing in popularity: festival electricals like fairy lights, mini fans, battery packs and cables are just a few of the half a billion ‘FastTech’ items that were thrown away in the UK last year.

What we do

At Material Focus, our goal is to stop the nation throwing away their electricals. We work with partners and communities across the UK to raise awareness of the issue of e-waste and to help make it easier for the public to recycle their electricals. With disposable vapes and ‘FastTech’ a growing issue amongst festival goers, we have put together a toolkit to help festival organisers understand and handle their e-waste, with 3 key takeaways:

  1. Vape sellers

Vape sellers on site have a legal responsibility to take back customers’ old vapes for recycling and to tell their customers that they offer this. All on-site vape sellers must have a designated vape deposit bin.

  1. Waste contractors

Waste contractors must ensure that all waste batteries and electricals left on site (including vapes) are handled appropriately back of house and disposed of responsibly using a registered AATF scheme.

  1. Festival-goers

The festival audience needs to know that they should never bin their vapes or electricals, they must always recycle them. Bins should be made available on site for festival goers to use, and festival goers should be made aware of electrical recycling options when they return home.

What you can do

Although we are aware that many festivals and events this year will choose to ban disposable vape devices, it is still important to recognise that vapes will inevitably make their way into festivals. Therefore festival organisers should consider how vapes will be handled to prevent any fires on-site or in the waste system. Despite the potential forthcoming national ban on the sale and supply of disposable vapes, the issue will not immediately disappear as ‘pod devices’ become more popular and disposable vapes continue to remain available during the phase out period.

E-waste is one of the fastest growing sources of waste in the UK, and globally, meaning it will continue to be a more prominent issue for events organisers. E-waste onsite is classified as a hazardous material which can contaminate compost and recycling streams, increase the risk of fires, cause damage to wildlife, and waste precious metals like copper, lithium, and aluminium, when not properly recycled.

Our recently developed briefing paper on handling vapes and electricals at festivals and events includes:

  • Your obligations as an event organiser
  • How to communicate with your waste contractor on handling vapes/electricals safely
  • The legal obligations of vape retailers onsite
  • Communications materials and guide to communications for festival goers
  • Information on funding available for vape bins

We are keen to support the festival and events industry with all things e-waste, whether through marketing and communications collaboration or operational advice, so please don’t hesitate to get in touch.


We are also looking for potential flagship funding partnerships. If you think your organisation could benefit from funding to go towards the cost of purchasing vape bins, please contact with information on your event, and how you would plan to spend the funding if your proposal was successful.

Rowan studied young people’s environmental perceptions of disposable vape devices as part of her Msc in Sustainable Development, whilst also working as Sustainability Assistant for Team Love. Since joining Material Focus, Rowan has made it her mission to produce a resource for the events industry based upon Material Focus’ expertise in e-waste management and changing consumer behaviour, making vape and electrical recycling a more approachable topic for festival organisers and audiences alike.

This blog originally appeared in our June 2024 Vision: 2025 newsletter. Sign up to receive monthly event sustainability news, case studies and guest blogs direct to your inbox.