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Xrayser: Can pharmacy really ditch the plastic and go green?

“How can we address plastic use in pharmacy without serious changes to drugs packaging?”

From packaging to fatbergs, Xrayser ponders pharmacy's environmental footprint and wonders if a greener future is possible

Oh the joy, oh the ecstatic anticipation when my Royal Pharmaceutical Society (RPS) membership card arrived in the post. Giddy with excitement I tore open the envelope, but instead of the usual smart plastic card of royal blue emblazoned with my details and the society crest, it had been replaced with a piece of stiff white paper that has the words: “Pharmaceutical Society” and a few arty lines printed on the front.

“We have replaced your plastic membership card with a more environmentally friendly option,” said the accompanying blurb. Oh, that’s alright then. It might look like something my four-year-old had produced, but that wouldn’t stop me feeling immediately proud to be a member of such an environmentally aware society that was taking a professional lead in addressing the global problem of single-use plastics and wearing its green credentials with pride.

Except that it’s not, because I would bet that compared to the amount of single-use plastic they get through at RPS HQ – from disposable pens to plastic cups – it’s a drop in the ocean (no sadly ironic metaphor intended).

Can we honestly go green in pharmacy? Is that even possible? Just look around the dispensary. From the dark plastic tablet bottles, to the acres of mixed material child-resistant foil packaging – neither of which can be practically recycled. Look at the delivery of plastic bubble wrap that protects glass bottles from drivers who treat the tote trays like a Welsh fullback going for the grand slam. Or the plastic bags that contain fridge or controlled drugs, or the plastic film over anything packed as an “outer”.

I glance over to where the day’s monitored dosage system packs are being assembled and the ceiling-high tower of plastic trays with plastic film seals and wonder if any of them get recycled into anything other than landfill. Then I wander out of the dispensary, down the aisle of plastic shampoo bottles and collapsible plastic toothpaste packs, past the fatberg-forming wet wipes, and finally end up by shelves of disposable nappies on one side and disposable incontinence pants the other.

How can we possibly address the use of plastic in pharmacy without serious changes to the way we package and dispense drugs? All I currently see is lots of talking and pontificating.  We make promises of an environmental age with images of nature in abundance like a happy Disney forest scene, where organisations and companies like the RPS proudly proclaim their green successes and we all feel that our generation has done its bit, while leaving the actual details to our children and grandchildren to sort out.

Great then that in October the EU voted for a complete ban on single-use plastics starting from 2021. Except that if we now get a no-deal Brexit the plastics will presumably just end up as landfill along with my Falsified Medicines Directive equipment.

But at least my RPS membership card will be proudly biodegrading in my pocket.

A long-running C+D contributor, the identity of Xrayser remains a mystery, but his irreverent views are known by all. Tweet him at @Xrayser


Soon-To-Be Ex-Pharmacist, Superintendent Pharmacist

I had a pack of Zopiclone liquid come today, in a box that was more suitable for a television set, in a polystyrene box, with miles of bubble wrap and SEVEN chiller blocks, all for a 200ml bottle. The waste is frightening, and that's not even starting on the landfill we generate from the MDS business.


N O, Pharmaceutical Adviser

1. Does the Plastic Card (or any other form) give you any preferential treatment at places other than MAY BE RPS HQ compared to us green non-RPS Pharmacists??

2. You forgot to mention the most important piece of plastic without which none of the RPs can start their work, the SMART CARD. What would happen if that has to be changed to a recyclable paper version ????

Leon The Apothecary, Student

Oh technically, there are ways around not using a Smartcard, fingerprint ID is the first thing that pops into my head.

N O, Pharmaceutical Adviser

Still you need some kind of PLASTIC related product to do so !!!

Leon The Apothecary, Student

That's okay, we can build you one using wood if you so desire.

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