Grundon Waste Management has introduced what it claims to be the UK’s first verified nationwide inhaler return and recycling initiative. NHS Trusts and community pharmacies participating in the new scheme will have specialised recycling containers for inhalers installed to simplify public participation, Grundon said in a statement.
Inhalers alone contribute to 4 per cent of NHS CO2 emissions, with around 73 million dispensed annually. By 2026, the health service aims to achieve a 50 per cent reduction in carbon emissions from waste management, a target that rises to 80 percent between 2028 and 2032, as outlined in the NHS Clinical Waste Strategy.
“This scheme holds the potential to revolutionise the approach of NHS Trusts towards achieving heightened carbon savings and ultimately, net zero emissions,” said Chris Edwards, Grundon’s General Manager – Technical. “Each discarded pressurised Metered Dose Inhaler (pMDI) contains highly polluting hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) gases – a category of greenhouse gas known to be over a thousand times more detrimental than carbon dioxide in driving climate change.”
“This initiative securely captures these gases and repurposes them for application in the refrigeration sector. By also recycling the plastic and aluminium components of the device, we are making a noteworthy contribution to the circular economy,” he added.
Once collected, these will undergo processing at Grundon’s specialist recycling facility in Ewelme, Oxfordshire, which is capable of handling more than 200,000 inhalers a day. The company aims to recycle 80 per cent of all prescribed inhalers by 2025, the statement added.
After successful trials with several NHS Trusts and Health Boards in England and Wales, the return and recycling service is now being rolled out nationwide, the company said. Swansea Bay University Health Board (SBUHB) joined in February, initiating a pilot take-back project for inhaler recycling across eight pharmacies. This involved using patient education and promotional materials to encourage individuals to return used or unwanted inhalers to their pharmacy.
“We’re the first in Wales to lead on an inhaler recycling project like this,” said Oliver Newman, Assistant Divisional Manager, Pharmacy & Medicines Management at SBUHB. “With a favorable uptake, we aim to expand the scheme across our health board. The Inhaler Recycling Pilot Project utilized funding from the Welsh Government to establish the contract with Grundon.”
Grundon’s inhaler recycling technology has been employed in two prior pharmaceutical-led projects. The “Take AIR” (Action for Inhaler Recycling) initiative was funded by Chiesi and received support from University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust (UHL) and Leicestershire and Rutland Local Pharmaceutical Committee (LPC).
Operational from February 2021 to February 2023, the program facilitated the return of 52,148 inhalers by mail within a two-year span. It is estimated to have prevented approximately 305.3 tonnes of carbon dioxide emissions from being released into the atmosphere.
Grundon worked with GSK on the Complete the Cycle inhaler recycling program, which operated for nearly a decade. In 2018, over 3 million inhalers were recycled, resulting in CO2 emissions savings equivalent to removing 16,174 cars from UK roads for that year.
In May, NHS England tasked the Royal Pharmaceutical Society with creating guidance to assist community and hospital pharmacy teams throughout Britain in minimising the environmental footprint of pharmacy services, pharmaceutical care, and medicines. Medicines contribute to 25 per cent of the NHS’s carbon emissions, and this initiative is aligned with the NHS’s target of achieving ‘net zero’ emissions by 2040.