Waste management company launches nationwide inhaler recycling service

The “first UK-wide” inhaler recycling service has been launched after a successful trial.

A waste collection and recycling company has launched a nationwide inhaler recycling service, following a successful pilot scheme, it has announced.

The company Grundon Waste Management announced in a statement on 20 September 2023 that the scheme is the “first UK-wide” inhaler recycling service.

It comes after NHS England said it had no plans for a national inhaler recycling scheme despite its net zero ambitions, but encouraged the use of local and manufacturer-led inhaler disposal schemes across the NHS.

According to the statement, the inhaler recycling service “guarantees the safe and compliant disposal of pressurised metered dose inhalers (pMDI)” by capturing hydrofluorocarbon gases and repurposing them for use in the refrigeration industry “where they are used to replace the need for manufactured gases”, as well as recycling the plastic and aluminium from the device.

The company said the process was trialled “with a number of NHS trusts and health boards across England and Wales”.

“One of these was Swansea Bay University Health Board (SBUHB), which came on board in February [2023], launching a pilot take-back project for inhaler recycling across eight pharmacies,” the statement said.

SBUHB had previously piloted the service in one pharmacy — the Vale of Neath Pharmacy, near Swansea — where 1,249 inhalers were returned for recycling.

Grundon’s service has also already been used in several schemes run by pharmaceutical companies including GSK, whose Complete the Cycle inhaler recycling scheme ran from 2011 to 2020, recycling more than 2 million inhalers.

In addition, Chiesi’s Take AIR (Action for Inhaler Recycling) scheme also used Grudon’s service. The scheme, which was supported by University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust and Leicestershire and Rutland Local Pharmaceutical Committee saw 52,148 inhalers returned through the post over a 24-month period, but ended in March 2023.

Organisations — including community pharmacies — that want to participate in Grundon’s recycling service can purchase containers to securely store the inhalers.

“Once collected, these will be processed at Grundon’s specialist recycling facility in Ewelme, Oxfordshire, which is capable of handling more than 200,000 inhalers a day,” the company’s statement said.

Anna Murphy, consultant respiratory pharmacist at University Hospitals of Leicester NHS Trust, who was involved in the Take AIR scheme, said it had “shown that patients were keen to do it and healthcare professionals were also happy to be involved, and we saved 305.2 tons of carbon going into the atmosphere — the equivalent capture capacity of 5,048 tree seedlings that have grown for ten years”.

“The challenge now is this really needs to be a national scheme but there is no money in the NHS to fund it, and there is no money for integrated care boards to take this on for the system, so pharmacies who want to offer [Grundon’s scheme] to their customers would have to find a way to fund it themselves,” she said.

However, Murphy added: “Inhaler recycling is the end of the inhaler journey so right at the start they need to be prescribed to the right person for the right purpose, and if you get that right you will also reduce waste across the system in hospitals, community hospital and walk-in centres.

“Then follows the point where we encourage people to return used inhalers back to community pharmacies where they can be disposed of and, ideally, have their plastics, aluminium and hydrocarbons recycled. That’s the model we need to be looking at but all of the NHS across England, Scotland and Wales needs to be willing to take this on.”

Last updated
The Pharmaceutical Journal, PJ, September 2023, Vol 311, No 7977;311(7977)::DOI:10.1211/PJ.2023.1.197598

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