London’s nitrous oxide addiction sparking environmental crisis fears

  • london
  • March 16, 2023
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ondon’s nitrous oxide ‘laughing gas’ obsession is sparking an environmental crisis as tens of thousands of canisters clog up the city’s recycling system.

One east London recycling plant collected more than 16,000 NOS canisters in nine months in 2022, up from a handful of canisters a month in previous years.

Bywaters, in Bromley-by-Bow, which collects and repurposes 140,000 tonnes of London’s waste each year, said the canisters cannot be safely disposed of onsite and so are sent to a specialist firm.

At the specialist firm, the cylinders must be compressed and sawn into segments. Doing so is dangerous, however, as if any of the canisters contain left over gas, they can explode.

The cost of this for Bywaters, from March to November last year was estimated at over £100,000 for 16,499 canisters.


Bywaters chief executive John Glover told the Standard the numbers of canisters was “alarming” and said there should be local free drop-in return points throughout the city where people can dispose of NOS containers safely.

“This needs to be actioned immediately to effectively tackle this increasing environmental issue,” he added.

It comes amid health fears for users of NOS.

The Government has asked for a review of NOS to see if the gas should be criminalised.

The independent Advisory Council on the Misuse of Drugs (ACMD) concluded the drug should not be banned.


At the Royal London Hospital in Whitechapel a team from the Barts Health Trust and Queen Mary University devised specialised treatment guidelines for patients.

“These are young people we are seeing – teenagers and people in their 20s.

“What’s striking now is the severity. We’ve seen that increase over the last 12 months or so,” professor Alastair Noyce, consultant neurologist at Queen Mary University of London told BBC News last month.

Repeated use of laughing gas can cause nerve-related issues such as incontinence, bowel problems or loss of mobility.

Rushanara Ali, Labour MP for Bethnal Green and Bow told the Standard: “I applaud all those at Barts Health Trust who were involved in the research and creation of the guidelines for treating and diagnosing spinal cord damage caused by laughing gas (Nitrous Oxide).

“With laughing gas now the second most popular recreational drug for 16-24 years olds in the UK, it is crucial that our public services are best equipped to deal with increased usage.

“Police must also be given guidance and additional powers to confiscate laughing gas and limit the public littering of canisters.

“To best support and protect our young people we must also ensure that proper education is provided on the risks and dangers of recreational drugs in schools.”