Inhaler recycling scheme that cut carbon emissions equivalent to more than 8,500 cars is scrapped

The Complete the Cycle programme, run by pharmaceutical firm GSK, is to close at the end of September 2020.

Woman using an asthma inhaler

A scheme to recycle respiratory inhalers, which has cut carbon dioxide (CO2) emissions equivalent to taking around 8,600 cars off UK roads, is ending.

The Complete the Cycle programme, run by pharmaceutical firm GSK and thought to be the only scheme of its kind in the UK, is to close at the end of September 2020, the company confirmed to The Pharmaceutical Journal.

GSK said that since 2011, when the scheme began, more than two million inhalers had been recycled and recovered, saving a similar amount of CO2 emissions as that produced by 8,665 cars in one year. The scheme recycled inhalers made by other manufacturers, as well as those made by GSK.

The NHS Long-Term Plan, published in January 2019, highlighted the fact that 73 million respiratory inhalers are prescribed every year in the UK. Metered dose inhalers (MDIs) contain hydrofluorocarbons — a type of greenhouse gas — to help propel the dose into the patient’s respiratory system.

The National Institute for Health and Care Excellence says that MDIs have an estimated carbon footprint equivalent to 500g of CO2 per dose. The long-term plan states that switching patients to lower carbon products, such as dry powder inhalers — which have a footprint of just 20g — could contribute 4% of the NHS’s commitment to cut carbon emissions overall by 57% by 2030.

Toby Capstick, lead respiratory pharmacist at Leeds Teaching Hospitals Trust and chair of the UK Clinical Pharmacy Association Respiratory Group, described the decision to end the recycling scheme as “disappointing”.

“I think this sends the wrong environmental message at the moment,” he said. “An industry-wide solution is needed [as soon as possible].”

Anna Murphy, consultant respiratory pharmacist at University Hospitals of Leicester Trust, told The Pharmaceutical Journal: “There needs to be more transparency from GSK of the results. I know going forward there are plans to have a system-wide all-pharmaceutical company approach to recycling rather than individual company schemes.”

A spokesperson for GSK said: “Since introducing Complete the Cycle in 2011, we have recovered over two million inhalers and demonstrated that there is interest from healthcare professionals, pharmacists and patients in reducing inhaler carbon emissions. We are proud of what it has achieved as the first national scheme of its kind, but it cannot reach the necessary scale as a bespoke, standalone scheme.

“We remain committed to inhaler recovery in the UK. In order to support the ambitious NHS environmental targets to reduce inhaler carbon emissions by 50% over the next ten years, we believe there needs to be a focus on a wider, joint-working approach across industry, rather than our own standalone approach.

“We believe working together will have a bigger environmental impact.”

Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, PJ July 2020, Vol 305, No 7939;305(7939):DOI:10.1211/PJ.2020.20208144

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