How to reduce the environmental impact of pharmaceuticals downstream of the value chain

Published on 17 April 2023 Read 25 min

For several years now, global healthcare manufacturers have been engaging in a voluntary approach to social and environmental responsibility as a business and innovation lever for patients, healthcare stakeholders and the planet. In this article, Alcimed focuses on the environmental issues inherent to the distribution and end of life of a health product and the associated opportunities for all actors involved.

Establish a collaborative approach between different health care actors to reduce the environmental impact of the global pharmaceutical industry

The issue of drug distribution involves many players, from pharmaceutical manufacturers to healthcare institutions and pharmacies. The implementation of CSR initiatives such as the dispensing of individual drugs in pharmacies (to avoid waste), the development of online pharmacies, or the recovery of by-products (packaging, medical devices, etc.) is part of a chain logic and must be structured at a broader level than each healthcare actor.

Some hospitals have taken up this issue and are addressing societal and environmental issues with healthcare manufacturers. For example, they are seeking to optimize hospital orders through regional hospital groups to save money and reduce the carbon footprint associated with transport. In the future, to ensure competitiveness and differentiation, the role of laboratories may therefore be to support healthcare institutions in this CSR approach, at the level of subsidiaries.

Learn more about CSR (Corporate Social Responsibility) issues >

Adopting responsible management of unused medicines and packaging

At the end of the life cycle, the issue of responsible management of unused medicines (UMD) arises. Whether it is a question of discharging residues of pharmaceuticals into water or recycling secondary packaging, the actions to be deployed go beyond the challenges of each industrial company alone, and are very specific to the healthcare sector: pharmaceutical products are not waste like any other. This phase must therefore also be addressed in synergy with the stakeholders in the healthcare ecosystem. Similarly, the current management channels for unused medicines show a need for structuring compared to sectors such as the food industry or consumer goods. In France, Cyclamed is an eco-organization financed by pharmaceutical companies through a fixed contribution per box of drugs sold in pharmacies. Its main mission is to collect the unused medicines returned by individuals to pharmacies, and then to recycle them in the form of energy.

Learn more about the issues related to recyclability >

An important area for improvement in the healthcare sector is to anchor this CSR approach in current practices while limiting the volume of waste associated with the use of healthcare products (packaging, syringes, surgical masks, etc.). In the medical device industry, approximately 90% of waste is composed of consumables and single-use items[1] . This suggests an opportunity for improvement by working on the eco-design of healthcare products while ensuring the regulatory and safety requirements of the sector.

The environmental impact of the pharmaceutical industry is one of the points for improvement in the sector, particularly in hospitals for the end-of-life stage of healthcare products. In addition to being an issue, this is a growing demand from healthcare teams and patients, whether they are treated in hospital or not. The risk for pharmaceutical companies not to address the environmental impact of pharmaceutical products is to see patients and health professionals turn to alternatives more respectful of their societal concerns. Alcimed can accompany you in your projects related to corporate social responsibility. Do not hesitate to contact our team!

You want to know more about CSR actions that reconcile these issues inherent to the health industry? Download our white paper: 5 activities to strengthen the societal commitment of healthcare industries.

[1] James Moultrie et al (2016). A maturity grid assessment tool for environmentally conscious design in the medical device industry.

About the author,

Aveline, Sales Manager within Alcimed’s Healthcare team in France

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