Changes in the tobacco industry require better end-of-life solutions for the products being placed on the market in Malta.
The concept is to provide ‘smoke-free products’ such as e-vapes and electronic cigarettes. E-vapour products are hand-held battery-powered devices that heat an e-liquid to produce an aerosol, commonly referred to as vapour. These products do not create smoke as they do not burn tobacco.
Over the last three years, the import value of these products has increased from €45,000 in 2020 to €587,000 in 2021 and up to €1.7 million in 2022.
Most of these units are used within a period of seven days, at most, while there are some which are used once and, unfortunately, binned in the most usual ways: in black bags, on the beach, in a mixed waste bin at the roadside, anywhere. They are binned without a single thought as to the consequences.
As the market continues to grow – and it will grow – the products will further contaminate our landfill and become a fire hazard due to their battery content.
The products fall under the Waste Electrical and Electronic Equipment Directive and are, thus, classified at the end of their lifespan, which is quite a short one.
Malta mainly follows EU directives or regulations in relation to waste management.
But we can also be proactive in this matter. It is the right time to work on the introduction of a deposit return system, where one pays a deposit and gets it back once the product is returned.
Just like the Beverage Container Refund Scheme (BCRS), this system would need importers and retailers to be on board.
In addition, the deposit should be quite considerable so that we can drive the message home that smoking could cause cancer and, eventually, death. These products are not nicotine-free, so the harm is present to any individual.
Surely, we can work together with different stakeholders to set this up and running in a short time. Malta took five years to design and implement the BCRS. We have gone through a learning curve but the experience gained by various stakeholders in setting it up could go a long way towards the establishment of a deposit refund scheme for e-vapes in a short time.
Simplicity in returning the product should be paramount. I am not a smoker but I do know exactly what anyone smoking does with their cigarette butt. So the system needs to be geared up in a way that it is customer-friendly and disposal-friendly too.
Today’s beaches and tourist areas are already littered with all types of waste because disposal is free of charge and looks like it will always be. A waste strategy document for 2014-2020 had outlined that a PAYT (Pay As You Throw) system would be studied and assessed and, eventually, implemented. Nothing has been done in this direction for the last eight years.
I am not a smoker but I do know exactly what anyone smoking does with their cigarette butt- Joe Attard
But the BCRS has shown us that individuals go the second mile to get a refund because they pay a deposit and want it back. So, yes, money talks and money walks.
Hopefully, those responsible at Circular Economy Malta or the Environment and Resources Authority, or both, will take the matter up with stakeholders to get this idea moving. These include importers, retailers, operators of existing compliance schemes for electrical and electronic equipment, the Chamber of SMEs and the Chamber of Commerce.
Time in waste management has always been against us. Maybe now we have a chance to prove to ourselves that together we can do better.
Of course, I forgot the first hurdle. The new scheme would need the blessing of the government, so let us hope it is provided to the various authorities so that they can start their work.
I am sure that both CE Malta and ERA would add another feather to their caps with such a DRS operating successfully, heightening consumers’ awareness of the continued danger of these products and the need to dispose of them correctly.
Your e-vape or e-cigarette should be returned for onward treatment and final recycling and not just binned anywhere.
Joe Attard is CEO of WEEE Malta Limited, an authorised waste electrical and electronic equipment compliance scheme.