The reality of climate change is becoming harder to ignore and pharmacies are often overlooked in being able to make a difference. Below is a list of our Top 10 ways pharmacies can adopt better environmental practice:
1. Conserve energy
Something all businesses can do is use energy-efficient lighting and heating such as automatic light sensors that turn on or off upon entering or leaving a room and manual thermostats to regulate the temperature, especially when your pharmacy closed.
In addition, powering off inactive electronics conserves energy which, ultimately, saves money. Simply unplugging unused devices and using appliances in power-saving mode helps. A great way to do this is to use a WiFi plug which turns on and off on a scheduled basis, setting this up at the beginning of an extension cord and programming it via Google Home (other services are available!) to switch on 10 minutes before opening and off 10 minutes after closing could save you and the planet a packet!
2. Go paperless
An example of paperless success is the NHS Electronic Prescription Service which is predicted to save the NHS £300m by 20211 by reducing paper processing and prescribing errors.
Whilst paper receipts are typically made from the lowest quality paper, minimising the production of vast amounts of mostly unnecessary material can be beneficial. Receipts, once printed, are either discarded immediately or clutter one’s wallet. The average paper receipt costs between $0.015 – $0.052 (£0.011 – £0.036) which may not seem monumental, but if a pharmacy prints 100 receipts a day, annually this would cost, on average, $1186.25 (£856.83). E-receipts, which are emails sent to the customer, could be used, this has the added bonus of creating a marketing mailing list if the customer opts in.
Discontinuing payments using paper cheques to both manufacturers and employees by switching to Direct Debits limits paper usage. Making use of this digital incentive, digital timesheets can be used for employees, as opposed to paper.
3. Encourage green logistics
Another thing all businesses can do is encourage ecologically friendlier transportation of goods and staff to and from work. Using battery-powered delivery vehicles can save massively on fuel costs. Encouraging employees to cycle to work by installing a bike rack is also a great idea.
4. Sell eco-friendly products
Selling environmentally friendly products may attract customers and improve your company’s image. Some examples, specific to a pharmacy are:
- Recycled toilet paper,
- Bamboo toothbrushes,
- Toothbrushes with recycled plastic handles,
- Soap bars,
- Eco-friendly cleaning supplies and cosmetics.
Many pharmacies sell other items for instance, reusable bottles and straws, made from metal or silicone, and stationery made from recycled materials.
5. Use recyclable paper bags
Recent data published by the NHS Business Service Authority showed that across the UK, 92,840,309 prescriptions were dispensed in March 20203. With large numbers of prescriptions being dispensed, using non-recyclable materials would have catastrophic impacts on the environment, therefore pharmacies should endeavour to use recyclable paper bags. For other items, encourage customers to use reusable shopping bags.
6. Order larger bottles
Specific to the pharmaceutical industry, large amounts of packaging waste is generated. Larger bottles of medications can be ordered from manufacturers rather than several smaller bottles to reduce waste. This may only work, however, if the patient is prescribed this amount, else large amounts of waste can still be produced. See 8.
7. Reuse pill containers
Once a pill container is emptied, they are often thrown away or recycled. Alternatively, if a patient requires a repeat prescription, they could bring in their empty pill container and refill this as opposed to using a new container – all that is needed is a new label. For sanitary reasons, the container should only be used for the same patient and same medication. If this is not possible, you can either repurpose the containers or ensure the containers are correctly disposed.
8. Only give patients what they need
One of the biggest issues in the industry is pharmaceutical waste. If a patient is given an excess of medication, this can lead to disposal problems. Too often, pharmaceuticals are flushed down the toilet where they enter sewage treatment works. As purification isn’t 100% accurate, some quantities of pharmaceuticals can still remain present and enter aquatic ecosystems and drinking water. This can have health and environmental impacts. Some studies have shown concerning effects for small organisms, such as fish which displayed evidence of feminisation5 and behavioural changes6.
A factor that exacerbates the problem is poor drug absorptivity in the body. Although the amount varies, between 30 and 90%4 of ingredients in pharmaceuticals are excreted unchanged after consumption. Drug redesign, using the ‘benign by design’ approach is a solution being used to combat this, by altering drugs to be better absorbed by the body or more rapidly bio-degrade, thereby making them more environmentally friendly.
Provide patients with the exact amount they require to avoid wastage and clearly label disposal methods on the medication to encourage proper disposal.
Your pharmacy can act as an educating platform, encouraging both employees and patients to become more eco-friendly by teaching them about the impact pharmaceutical waste has on the environment. This will invoke conscious decision making on correct disposal of excess medication and containers. Your pharmacy could display such posters and signs as well as having easily accessible recycling and waste bins.
Perhaps the simplest of all, but often overlooked, is recycling. Recycling has huge benefits, such as conserving natural resources thereby cutting emissions as there is a lower demand for raw materials, protects ecosystems and saves energy and money.
1 Universal electronic prescriptions could save NHS £300m in next three years, accessed on 06/07/2021 via https://www.nhsbsa.nhs.uk/universal-electronic-prescriptions-could-save-nhs-ps300m-next-three-years
2 Everyone wants Digital Receipts, So Why is the Retail Industry Not Adopting It?, accessed on 05/07/2021 via https://hackernoon.com/digital-receipts-in-retail-b415fbdfde3f
3 Press Release: New NHS Data Shows Record 93 Million Prescription Items Dispensed in March, accessed on 05/07/2021 via https://thecca.org.uk/press-release-new-nhs-data-shows-record-93-million-prescription-items-dispensed-in-march/
4 Green pharma: the growing demand for environmentally friendly drugs, accessed on 05/07/2021 via https://www.pharmaceutical-technology.com/comment/commentgreen-pharma-the-growing-demand-for-environmentally-friendly-drugs-5937344/
5 Assessment of Feminization of Male Fish in English Rivers by the Environment Agency of England and Wales, accessed on 05/07/2021 via https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC1874176/
6 Dilute Concentrations of a Psychiatric Drug Alter Behavior of Fish from Natural Populations, accessed on 05/07/2021 via https://science.sciencemag.org/content/339/6121/814
How to Make Your Pharmacy Go Green and Wow Patients, accessed on 05/07/2021 via https://www.pbahealth.com/make-pharmacy-go-green-wow-patients/
Sustainable Pharmacies: How to Go Green, accessed on 05/07/2021 via https://alphascrip.com/archives/sustainable-pharmacies-how-to-go-green/