Hungary collecting pharma waste from consumers

Stablets and capsulesince 2005 more than 1,000 tons of pharmaceutical waste have been collected selectively by Hungarians — at more than 4,000 waste collection points. This number is expected to grow in the coming years.

Although this year a new waste management policy has been introduced in Hungary, it seems it won’t affect the collection of pharmaceutical waste, which has become more and more successful since 2005. Pharmaceutical manufacturers are still obligated to place waste collection boxes in pharmacies and drug stores all over the country: the boxes are used to collect unused or expired medications.

In Hungary, collection and destruction of pharmaceutical waste is carried out by seven pharmaceutical manufacturers and Recyclopharma, a non-profit organization established by Hungaropharma, a Hungarian drug wholesaler and distribution company.

Well done Hungary.

Many countries operate periodic collection schemes permitting those with an accumulation of unwanted pharmaceuticals, both prescription and non-prescriptions medicines, generally operated or managed by a Local Authority. The Hungarian model seems slightly different, somewhat akin to the arrangements for collection of used batteries from consumers, but is obviously successful.

In the UK, we have none of it. A few GP surgeries and rather more high street chemists will accept small amounts of pharmaceutical wastes but this is still a rarity. The Environment Agency hold the key, and would do well promoting and driving forward a national scheme for collection of pharmaceutical wastes rather than placing barriers through ever-increasing rules and regulation, and otherwise refusing to get involved.

Of course, cost in a major issue. Who pays for disposal will always be a thorny issue that needs to be decided, or perhaps dictated, on a national basis. It may be a local authority charge as the disposal authority, the PCTs or the pharmaceutical industries; perhaps even central government operating through it’s Environment Agency. Now there’s an idea!

It will be a costly undertaking as the amounts of waste will be huge. Who gains from this? There will be an obvious environmental advantage with far less waste pharmaceuticals entering the environment via solid waste and wastewater. It is likely also that awareness of cost though a well-managed and widely promoted collection scheme might reduce unnecessary requests for repeat prescription, creating a substantial saving for the NHS.

Whether the costs of a national disposal scheme can be borne by all stakeholders or funded in a more focussed way, perhaps by the pharmaceutical manufacturers, it is the Environment Agency who must get this going and see it through. Thus far, they are sitting on their hands as if it might be just too much work. That doesn’t help anyone, and it certainly doesn’t help the environment.



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