Can pharmacy waste management change the world?

When it comes to health, it’s rare that we think about waste management. However, its impact on collective well-being is very real. How can pharmacy waste management change the world?

Do pharmacies really create that much pollution?

With the well-being of people at heart, the pharmaceutical world is being called upon to broaden its vision and adopt eco-responsible practices. Indeed, it’s no longer a secret that one of the components of health is a healthy environment.

It’s estimated that an average-sized pharmacy produces about 45 tons of waste per year. When we consider that part of this waste could pose a cytotoxic hazard by contaminating waterways and wildlife, pharmacy waste management is definitely a cause for concern.

In addition, it’s estimated that a single pharmacy uses 15,000 vials of medication per year. What about considering the use of eco-designed vials and even the reuse of vials that can be recycled?

The Three Rs + E

What are the Three Rs + E? Reduce, Reuse, Recycle, and repurpose or Eliminate. Various actions can be taken to reduce pharmacy waste emissions. By efficiently managing inventories, pharmacists can have a huge impact on waste reduction. In addition, another area of focus is // and recycling.

  • Reduce

Waste reduction should be done upstream. There are a multitude of possible approaches, including the following:

Better Inventory Management

One of the first things pharmacies should focus on in terms of waste management is maintaining an adequate and thorough inventory to reduce waste. In addition to reducing the impact on the environment, careful inventorying helps ensure medication is available when patients need it. In addition, it has a positive effect on the pharmacy’s profits.

More specifically, inventory management must take into account the expiration dates of drugs, returns, damaged products, recalls and unclaimed prescriptions. The needs of a pharmacy depend greatly on its clientele, so it’s essential to be aware of the realities of patients in order to avoid any waste.

Procurement Awareness

In addition to managing medication, pharmacies generally procure various items. By working with local businesses, they not only promote the regional economy, but also reduce their ecological footprints.

Pharmacies can also play a major role when selecting products for customers. Reusable diapers, bamboo toothbrushes, rechargeable dental floss, natural and eco-responsible products are enjoying increasing popularity.

Reflection About Recipients and Containers

Single-use containers generate a significant amount of waste right from the moment they are fabricated. By using eco-designed vials—meaning they have been developed to reduce their impact on the environment—the pharmacy can have a significant effect right at the source. With this in mind, the Ecolo-Vial is made with 30% less plastic and is produced using 52% less CO2 than other types of vials.

Pharmacies can also offer different products in bulk. Household and body care products sold in bulk are very successful and are increasingly popular with consumers.

  • Reuse

In the case of reuse, we’re not thinking about the medication, but rather about the vials. Obviously, ensuring that no risks are posed to the health of the patients is crucial, but when possible, why not try to implement reuse?

  • Recycle

A study conducted by the Léger firm indicates that 79% of Quebecers recycle. While not all of them systematically sort recycled materials (only 47% do), it is still a practice rooted in our habits. The pharmacy can recycle non-contaminated packaging, pill boxes, glass, plastic or metal containers that are accepted by sorting centres.

And since pharmacies also hold convenience store items, the pharmacy can make recycling boxes for batteries and various electronic waste available to patients.

  • Repurpose or Eliminate

When we talk about waste recovery or repurposing, we are mainly referring to composting. Companies, whether pharmaceutical or not, can promote this by providing compost bins to its employees.

Throwing waste out should only be done when it can’t be treated differently. This is precisely the case with many drugs that can pose a danger to flora, fauna and humans if not properly disposed of. Pharmacists are in the best position to learn about proper drug disposal practices, especially if they’ve undergone  the necessary training. In this regard, pharmacists can play an important role in raising awareness with their patients and inviting them to bring their medical waste back to the pharmacy.


What are the benefits?

In addition to working to create a safer and healthier environment for everyone, a pharmacy that adopts eco-responsible behaviour, particularly in terms of waste management, can increase its annual profits. According to Marc-André Mailhot, founding president of Maillon Vert, these revenues could amount to around $45,000 per year. That’s enough to completely debunk the idea that going green is expensive.

Pharmacists generally enjoy a great deal of trust with their patients. Wouldn’t it be incredible if they could extend their contribution by protecting the environment as well as their communities’ health?

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