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Minimising pharmaceutical waste saves environment and money


Minimising pharmaceutical waste is the most efficient way to prevent medicine residues from ending up to the environment. For those who have many medicines in regular use, dose dispensing helps to reduce pharmaceutical waste. In dose dispensing, the patient receives only the exact amount of medicine needed, so there are no surplus medicine packages piling up at home.

There is less pharmaceutical waste created at home compared to other household waste, so it is not necessarily thought of as important to reduce pharmaceutical waste than plastic, for example. But when all the households in Finland are considered, 500 000 kilograms of medicines are being disposed annually.1 Unlike majority of other household waste, pharmaceutical waste cannot be recycled or even disposed as mixed waste but must be brought to a pharmacy for appropriate disposal.

Everyone can contribute to reducing pharmaceutical waste, starting from little choices. For example, a new prescription can be started with the smallest possible package, if the medicinal product turns out to be unsuitable and needs to be changed for one reason or another. In the coming years, an environmental certification for pharmaceuticals will be launched in Finland, and it will help to increase understanding of the environmental impacts of medicines,” says Katja Tolkki, Head of Sustainability at Oriola.

She also reminds that medication should only be purchased if needed. During the spring, the COVID-19 outbreak in Finland triggered uniquely high demand of medicines in pharmaceutical wholesale and pharmacies.

There is a danger that people don’t need all the medicines they purchased or the products expire before usage. Let’s hope there will not be a peak in pharmaceutical waste in the near future,” Tolkki says.

Dose dispensing is an easy way to minimise pharmaceutical waste

For those who have many medicines in regular use, dose dispensing helps to reduce pharmaceutical waste. In dose dispensing, pharmacies deliver the medicine tablets and capsules that the patient has in regular use packed in single-dose pouches. Each pouch contains clear information of the date and time for taking the medicine. This way there will not be many different medicine packages or too large packages piling up at home, but only the exact dose to be consumed. In addition to the environment, reducing pharmaceutical waste also saves costs for the society and patients.

Sometimes the reason for unused medicines is simply forgetting. According to a survey that mapped medicine usage among Finnish people aged from 70 to 89, 30% of the respondents had sometimes forgot to take a prescription medicine. The survey was commissioned by Oriola in December 2019. However, surprisingly few seniors use any aid in dispensing their medication. 51% of the respondents using prescription medicines do not use a pill dispenser or ready packed doses of medicines. Still over a third (38%) of the seniors who have four or more different prescription medicines in use, do not use any aid in dispensing.

Also, dose dispensing improves pharmaceutical safety: the pouches always contain the right dose of medicines to be taken at the right time. Especially in these times of COVID-19 pandemic, dose dispensing supports the health of the risk groups as nurses don’t need to dispense medicines by hand in elderly care facilities or home care, for example. Compared to a pill dispenser, automated dose-dispensing service that is available from pharmacies, is more reliable since manual dispensing is more prone to mistakes,” says Eero Lamminen, Director of Services Categories Business Unit at Oriola.

1 Apteekkari (only in Finnish)

Oriola takes part in a campaign to protect the Baltic Sea (Lääkkeetön Itämeri -kampanja), which is running from 31 August to 13 September. Oriola participates in the industry wide campaign as a part of its corporate sustainability programme, where environment is one of the themes. Our goal is to reach carbon neutrality by 2030. Campaign website: (only in Finnish)