Possession of nitrous oxide, otherwise known as laughing gas, is now illegal in the UK. The drug has been linked to anti-social behaviour and presents as a serious environmental risk. The waste sector has welcomed the ban. The Chief Risk and Assurance Officer of Veolia UK, Richard Hulland, said:
Pressurised laughing gas canisters present a serious safety risk if incorrectly disposed of costing us up to £1.4 million in just the last year.”
The new ban came into effect on 8 November and means nitrous oxide is now considered a Class C drug. Repeat users could face up to 2 years in prison, while dealers could face up to 14 years. The drug has posed a risk to people’s health and the environment. Many also link the drug with anti-social behaviour. Crime and Policing Minister Chris Philp said, “For too long the use of this drug in public spaces has contributed to anti-social behaviour which is a blight on communities. We will not accept it.”
The canisters used to inhale laughing gas are often left “scattered” across public spaces. Due to the pressurised nature of the canisters, it is hard to dispose of them. This summer, a government report found that 13 tonnes of nitrous oxide canisters were collected after the Notting Hill carnival. Richard Hulland from Veolia explained how this huge amount of waste affects the industry, particularly as the explosive nature of the canisters puts collection vehicles and waste facilities at risk of damage. He said:
The explosions also prevented the production of 380 MWh of electricity for the National Grid due to the shutdown of the plant, the equivalent of 21,000 homes being without power for two days."
Hulland also noted the environmental risks of the drug. He said:
These canisters also represent a real environmental risk, as nitrous oxide is a greenhouse gas almost 300 times more harmful than carbon dioxide.”
The government has advised to check with your local authority on how to correctly dispose of them in your area.