Pharmacy sustainability: What is our role?
Julia Miller is a third-year PharmD candidate at The Ohio State University College of Pharmacy and a member of the 2021–22 APhA–ASP Policy Standing Committee.
Have you ever thought about where medication ends up after it leaves the pharmacy? What about all the paper and plastic that is generated from day-to-day operations? Compared to traditional office spaces, medical facilities use nearly twice as much energy per square foot.1
It’s time to be curious and make changes toward pharmacy sustainability.
To put things in perspective, U.S. health care facilities generate approximately 14,000 tons of waste daily, and in 2018 Americans filled 5.8 billion prescriptions; that number continues to grow.2 These prescriptions include tablets, capsules, and pills and topical treatments that make their way into the environment through human excretion, trash disposal, and wash-off.
When these medications are disposed of improperly, they affect the environment and can cause harm to plants and animals as well as contaminate water meant for drinking.3 In addition to effects on the environment, improper storage of medications can potentially lead to drug misuse and accidental overdose.3
According to the American Association of Poison Control Centers’ National Poison Data System, more than 30% of overdose and poisoning deaths were due to accidental ingestion of medications that led to child fatality.3 Thus, proper disposal of medications is of the upmost importance to protect the environment and those around us.
In addition to medication disposal, operations also contribute to environmental pollution. Think about all the paper that comes with just one prescription. This includes the bag, the pamphlet, the label on the medication bottle, and the receipt. In 2018, CVS pharmacy used 54,500 tons of paper.4
If there were an option for e-receipts, the environmental impact would be enormous. Even further than reducing paper, recycling stock bottles of some medications in the pharmacy could help the environment.4
It’s time to start talking to stakeholders and suggesting implementation ideas to making pharmacy work environments more sustainable. Start asking: what can be recycled? What can be electronic? What options can we provide to our patients?
We need to use our voices to advocate for more sustainable practices and paperless formats in pharmacies to minimize operational waste.
While there may be barriers—for example, not all patients may have access to the internet—making steps toward this option could have a huge environmental impact.
Additionally, we need to be educated on proper medication disposal and be prepared to counsel patients. See the sidebar for helpful resources in this area.
1. Wick J. Getting to green: How’s pharmacy doing? Pharm Times. 2013;79:[epub]. www.pharmacytimes.com/view/getting-to-green-hows-pharmacy-doing
2. Gahbauer A, Gruenberg K, Forrester C, et al. Climate care is health care: A call for collaborative pharmacy action. J Am Coll Clin Pharm. 2021;4(5):631–638. doi: https://doi.org/10.1002/jac5.1412
3. AlAzmi A, AlHamdan H, Abualezz R, et al. Patients’ knowledge and attitude toward the disposal of medications. J Pharm (Cairo). 2017;2017:8516741. doi:10.1155/2017/8516741
4. Do T, Novakowski J. Sustainable pharmacy: A regimen for the future. The D.U.Quark. 2020;5:2–9.