The OECD published the report “Management of Pharmaceutical Household Waste: Limiting Environmental Impacts of Unused or Expired Medicine” which provides an overview of pharmaceutical consumption and disposal practices across OECD countries, and solutions to reduce waste and environmental pollution resulting from poorly managed waste.
A webinar event was also hosted online with a presentation by OECD Environmental Economist, Frithjof Laubinger, on pharmaceutical consumption trends, waste statistics and solutions to improve waste management (with details on collection rates by country and campaigns to change behaviour). Other presentations were given by Terri Drover (HPSA) and Lisa Stern Odmark on pharmacy take back schemes in Canada and Sweden, which targeted pharmacists – highlighting the importance of both public and pharmacist education.
Pharmaceutical household waste from expired or unused medicine does not only offer zero therapeutic benefit, but also contributes to environmental pollution when disposed of via improper routes. Medicines discarded in sinks and flushed down toilets enter sewage waters and, if not filtered out, leak into aquatic systems. Disposal of unused or expired medicines via solid household waste can also result in pharmaceutical residues entering the environment if this waste is illegally dumped, or destined for landfills. In addition to environmental risks, unused or expired medicine not only constitutes wasted healthcare resources, but also presents a possible public health risk of accidental or intentional misuse and poisoning if extracted from waste bins. Preventing pharmaceutical household waste and ensuring the effective collection and environmentally sound treatment of unavoidable waste is thus an important policy objective. This report provides an overview of available data on pharmaceutical consumption and disposal practices across OECD countries, reviews existing collection schemes and provides recommendations to best prevent, collect and treat unused or expired medicines in order to avoid their leakage into the environment.
OECD (2022), Management of Pharmaceutical Household Waste: Limiting Environmental Impacts of Unused or Expired Medicine, OECD Publishing, Paris, https://doi.org/10.1787/3854026c-en.