Waitrose becomes first UK supermarket to stop selling disposable vapes

Waitrose will stop selling disposable vapes following a Bureau investigation into the number of the devices that end up in landfill. The other “big four” UK supermarkets either said they would continue selling the products or declined to respond to request for comment.

The Bureau approached Morrisons, Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Asda to ask if they would stop selling single-use vaping products after Waitrose announced last month that it is completely withdrawing disposable vapes from its shelves. Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Asda did not respond, while Morrisons said it does not plan to stop selling the products.

The environmental impact of disposable vapes was revealed in July by the Bureau in partnership with Sky News and the Daily Telegraph. Exclusive research showed that two devices were being binned every second in the UK, despite their batteries containing lithium, an in-demand metal that is vital to the green economy.

This means that 10 tonnes of lithium – enough for roughly 1,200 electric car batteries – is being sent to landfill each year just because of disposable vapes.

Waitrose cited this figure when it announced it was discontinuing the products and a spokesperson said the supermarket chain was “very much aware of the [Bureau's] report” when making its decision.

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Disposable vapes have become big business for supermarkets and Elf Bar is the fastest growing brand within the grocery sector, increasing its sales by £318.4m in 2022, according to the Grocer. Morrisons, Tesco, Sainsbury’s and Asda all sell either the Elf Bar or Geek Bar brands, which together make up an estimated 60% of the market.

A ban on disposable vapes is being considered by the Scottish government as part of a review being led by non-government organisation Zero Waste Scotland. This comes after lobbying from a coalition including ASH Scotland, campaigner Laura Young, Marine Conservation Society and Keep Scotland Beautiful.

The coalition has used the Bureau’s data on disposable vapes in its e-cigarette waste briefing material.

Lorna Slater, the circular economy minister, said: “Not only are single-use vapes bad for public health, they are also bad for the environment. We will consider the evidence and expert advice and come forward with policy options, which could include a potential ban on single-use vapes.

“In the meantime, we would urge everyone who uses these products to make sure they are disposed of properly.”

Header image: Keith Mayhew/SOPA Images/LightRocket via Getty Images

Reporter: Matthew Chapman
Global health editor: Chrissie Giles
Impact producer: Paul Eccles
Production editor: Alex Hess
Fact checker: Misbah Khan

Our reporting on tobacco is part of our Global Health project, which has a number of funders. Our Big Tobacco project is funded by Vital Strategies. None of our funders have any influence over the Bureau’s editorial decisions or output.