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Minimising pharmaceutical waste prevents medicines from ending up to the environment


Reducing pharmaceutical waste has great significance for the environment and society. In Finnish households alone, 500 000 kilograms of medicines are being disposed annually. Each year, Oriola processes and sends for proper disposing hundreds of thousands of kilograms of pharmaceutical waste. A large part of the pharmaceutical waste disposed by Oriola comes from the waste collection points of the Kronans Apotek pharmacies where consumers can bring pharmaceuticals they no longer use or that have expired.

It is a great deed for the environment to take unused medicines to pharmacies, but it is equally important to think of reasons why they were left unused in the first place.

“In addition to the unused medicines, the resources such as energy and raw materials needed for manufacturing and distribution are also wasted. The logic is the same as with food disposal – the distinction is, however, that pharmaceutical waste is hazardous and causes damage to the ecosystem if it ends up in the environment,” says Oriola’s Head of Sustainability Katja Tolkki.

Medical advice supports commitment to treatment

There are many ways for the entire pharmaceutical industry to support sustainable use of pharmaceuticals, from optimisation of packaging sizes to offering advice to patients. For example, expert medical advice can help increase patient’s commitment to treatment. There may be many reasons for not finishing medication prescribed by a doctor: symptoms may have eased and the patient no longer feels the need for medication, the patient may forget to take the medicine, or the medicine might not be suitable the patient.

”Leaving a prescribed course of medication unfinished leads to a risk that the illness will return, which in turn increases pharmaceutical waste, healthcare costs, as well as sick leave costs for employers. Giving advice about the right and safe use of pharmaceuticals is a significant part of the daily work of Oriola’s pharmacists at pharmacies and phone service. Our medical information service handles approximately 24,000 cases annually,” Tolkki explains.

Small actions reduce pharmaceutical waste

Everyone can take part in sustainable use of medicines and help reduce pharmaceutical waste.

”For instance, a new prescription can be started with the smallest possible package, and medication should only be purchased if needed. If you have many medications in regular use, dose dispensing is an efficient way to reduce pharmaceutical waste,” Tolkki reminds.

In dose dispensing, pharmacies deliver customers a daily supply of tablets and capsules packed in single-dose pouches. This way the patient receives the exact amount of medicine needed.

“The sustainable use of pharmaceuticals is an important for the environment, society as well as the patients themselves,” Tolkki concludes.

1 Apteekkariliitto (in Finnish)

We take part in a campaign to protect the Baltic Sea (Lääkkeetön Itämeri -kampanja). Oriola participates in the industry wide campaign as a part of its corporate sustainability program, where environment is one of the four themes. Campaign website: