A pile of inhalers to be recycled

Complete the cycle – how we’re recycling inhalers

When we analysed our carbon footprint two things became clear: we needed to take action to reduce it, and we needed a better understanding of how individual products affected the environment.

The impact of one particular product was immediately obvious, however. Our inhalers produce 5.2 million tonnes of CO2 emissions, and are the second biggest contributor to our global footprint - just after the transportation aspects involved in making and supplying our products around the world.

Propellant versus production

As we began to look into the carbon footprint of our inhalers, we soon realised that there was no one-size-fits-all solution. This was because the factors making up the footprint of each inhaler device varied widely.

For example, we found that 95% of the footprint produced by one of our metered dose inhalers (MDIs) was a result of the propellant it released into the atmosphere. But when we analysed the footprint of our Diskus dry-powder inhalers –which don’t need propellants - we found 65% came from the plastics and the energy used in its manufacture and supply.

For our propellant-based inhalers, we are exploring a range of options, including reducing the amount of propellant used, capturing propellant lost during manufacturing, recycling used devices and investigating alternative propellants.

Work in progress – propellant reduction

Eliminating CFC gases from our products has substantially reduced inhaler emissions – from 24 million tonnes CO2-equivalents in 1998, to less than five million tonnes today. But we are striving to do more, as the replacement propellant in MDIs is still a very powerful greenhouse gas. Increasingly we supply inhalers that do not use propellants, but some people, particularly children, find these dry-powder formulations difficult to use.  

Complete the Cycle - inhaler recycling in action

Complete the Cycle is our recycling and recovery scheme for all respiratory inhalers, and is the first of its kind. We aim to provide a convenient way for patients to recycle their inhalers, to help reduce waste and greenhouse gas emissions, and move towards a more environmentally sustainable approach to treating respiratory disease.

73 million respiratory inhalers are prescribed every year in the UK1 and not disposing of them correctly can be harmful to our environment. Our inhaler recycling and recovery scheme, Complete the Cycle, is the first of its kind for respiratory inhalers in the UK.

Complete the Cycle was set up in the UK in 2011. By the end of 2017, over 1.2 million inhalers have been recycled and recovered. This has saved carbon dioxide emissions equivalent to taking 5,199 cars off UK roads2. 

By working together with patients, pharmacies and healthcare professionals, we can all help to reduce waste and greenhouse gases, moving towards a more environmentally sustainable treatment of respiratory disease.

[1] Data on File 2018 IMS No. of inhalers Prescribed (UK/RET/0081/17(1))
[2] Data on File 2018 CO2 emissions calculations (UK/RET/0010/18)