Patients return 200,000 injection pens through recycling scheme

Exclusive: Novo Nordisk said that since the scheme's launch in 2021, approximately two tonnes of plastic waste had been saved.
hands holding insulin pen

A scheme to recycle plastic pre-filled injection pens, run by manufacturer Novo Nordisk, has seen 200,000 pens returned for recycling since the programme launched as a pilot in November 2021, the company has said.

Novo Nordisk told The Pharmaceutical Journal that it had hoped to see more returns of the pens — which are used by patients with diabetes, obesity and growth disorders to dispense insulin and other medicines — but that its figures suggest a recent increase in participation.

The company said that, as of 14 August 2023, approximately two tonnes of plastic waste had been saved as a result of its PenCycle scheme, which it runs with pharmaceuticals wholesaler Alliance Healthcare.

Novo Nordisk, which manufactures the pre-filled insulin injection pens Flexpen and Flextouch, said that approximately 3,700 community pharmacies in the UK are registered with the scheme, which was rolled out nationally in October 2022, following a successful pilot scheme.

Participating pharmacies are sent practical guidance on the initiative, patient information and materials for patients to take home. These include a return box, which patients can fill with up to 12 used pen devices at home (with the needle removed), before returning it to either the pharmacy, by post or, for people on growth hormone treatment, via an at-home collection. 

The pens are returned to Denmark, where the plastic is then recycled into a range of items, such as furniture, and the glass is re-used to make goods including lamps.

When the pilot scheme was launched in 2021, Novo Nordisk said the PenCycle scheme had the potential to recycle more than 3 million pens in 2023, and when the scheme was rolled out nationally, the company said it could prevent up to 12 tonnes of plastic waste by the end of 2023.

“Recently, we learned that over 200,000 pens in the UK have been returned to our recycling service for pre-filled injection pens,” a spokesperson for the company said.

“Our initial estimates for the national scheme anticipated a greater number of returns in the UK.

“We have learned that it takes time for new habits to form as people have been used to disposing of their used pre-filled pen in a certain way over many years.

“As awareness and engagement in the scheme increase, Novo Nordisk expects returns in the UK to increase exponentially. In the last two months, Novo Nordisk have seen over 30,000 used pens coming back monthly and a positive trend of returns,” they added.

Mathew Peters, senior professional services manager at the National Pharmacy Association (NPA), which had previously been involved with the scheme, said: “We support the PenCycle collaboration and encourage NPA members to take part.

“Recycling is one of many ways in which pharmacies can look after the environment and this scheme makes it simple to do so.”

Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, PJ, August 2023, Vol 311, No 7976;311(7976)::DOI:10.1211/PJ.2023.1.194308

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