Out of 227 invited to participate, only 141 community pharmacies have signed up to take part in the UK’s first postal inhaler recycling scheme, according to figures obtained by The Pharmaceutical Journal.
The 12-month scheme, launched by pharmaceutical company Chiesi in February 2021, is being piloted in Leicestershire and Rutland with support from the University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust and Leicestershire and Rutland Local Pharmaceutical Committee.
The Leicestershire Take Action for Inhaler Recycling (Take AIR) scheme is thought to be the first inhaler recycling initiative that allows people to dispose of, and recycle, their empty, unwanted or out-of-date inhalers through the post. Pre-paid envelopes are provided by the pharmacies taking part in the scheme.
The scheme was launched after GSK’s ‘Complete the cycle’ programme — which invited patients to return used inhalers to community pharmacies to be disposed of in an environmentally safe way — was ended in September 2020 after nine years. In total, the scheme recycled and recovered more than 2 million inhalers. GSK said at the time that a ‘standalone’ inhaler recycling scheme could not hit NHS environmental targets.
Through the ‘Take AIR’ scheme, aluminium canisters will be recycled and reused, plastic components will be recycled and put back into the plastic supply chain, and any remaining propellant gas will be extracted and reused in items such as fridges and air conditioning units. Non-recyclable materials will be converted into energy.
A total of 227 community pharmacies in Leicestershire and Rutland were invited to participate in the scheme but only 141 are currently participating, according to data from Chiesi provided to The Pharmaceutical Journal.
In the six months since the scheme began, 867 ‘Take AIR’ pre-paid postage envelopes have been sent through Royal Mail to the waste management company, containing a total of 3,216 inhalers for disposal or recycling.
A spokesperson for Leicestershire and Rutland LPC said that both pharmacists and patients had welcomed the introduction of the scheme. Pharmacists who had taken part said that patients were keen to recycle their inhalers and had become more aware of when and how to use their inhaler.
The ‘Take AIR’ scheme will run for 12 months, at which point it will be assessed for effectiveness and how it can best be rolled out in other areas.
According to the ‘NHS Long-Term Plan’, published in January 2019, 73 million respiratory inhalers are prescribed each 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 ‘NHS Long-Term Plan’ suggests that switching patients to lower carbon products, such as dry powder inhalers — which have a footprint of 20g — could contribute 4% to the NHS’s commitment to cut carbon emissions overall by 57% by 2030.