Wednesday, 24 November 2010

I do Inhale!

I'm an asthmatic, have been for years. And so like many other asthmatics, I depend on inhalers to be able to function. Of course these inhalers are encased in hard plastic coverings. Apart from the possible negative medical aspects of putting plastics into the mouth - given that many nasty chemical compounds are used in its production - they are a real threat to wildlife too. Inhalers have been found in the stomachs of dead seabirds.

I use two different types of Inhalers, one is similar to the one in the photo above. In theory, when I go to my pharmacy for a repeat prescription, I should be able to just take off the plastic covering, hand in the metal container, which holds the actual compound and receive a new container, which I could then simply fit into the old plastic covering part. But no, neither the pharmacy or the manufacturers of these medicines, are able to do that. Instead every time I need a repeat - once a month - I can only receive the full package. This is madness and a total waste of resources. I have come to an agreement with my pharmacy now where they will at least take thee whole container off me. But I expect they simply dump it in their rubbish bin, or, incinerate it.

Why cannot the manufacturers just supply the inner metal container to the pharmacy? So all asthmatics could then continue to use the same outer case, but just receive a new metal inner case.

I wrote to the two companies who supply my inhalers. I still haven't heard from one of them (after 2 months), the second company did reply, but in typical, mumbo jumbo, non committal, business speak:

Thank you for your enquiry regarding recycling of the Turbohaler.

Whilst the environmental impact of our products is very important to AstraZeneca, patient safety must always come first. Our inhalers have been designed to ensure patient safety and the delivery of the correct dose of the medicine to the patient.

To protect the medicine and to make sure that it gets to the patient safely, our inhalers are manufactured using components with different properties. This means that different plastics are used to create a single inhaler. In addition, when all the doses in the inhaler have been used, there are always small amounts of medicine remaining inside, which should be disposed in accordance with local waste management regulations. These two factors make any re-cycling difficult.

We recommend that used inhalers are returned to a pharmacy where they can be disposed according to local laws. This usually results in the inhaler being disposed of as clinical waste.

We continue to work hard to improve the sustainability of our devices and packaging materials and are committed to reducing the amount of material and the range of different plastic materials used for our medicines.

As you know, the Responsibility section of our website provides detailed information about our approach to packaging and the environment and we report on our performance each year so that all interested parties can monitor our progress.

Thank you again for your interest.
Kind regards.

So, Ive written another letter to them, and am awaiting their response:

I was surprised to read your advice to me regarding the 'safe', disposal of the Inhaler. You suggest returning the used product to the pharmacy from where it was obtained, for incineration. Are you aware that incineration releases dioxins into the environment? Dioxins are known carcinogens and suspected reproductive and immunological toxicants.

That you use different plastics in the manufacture of these products also raises alarm bells. You may be aware that there is currently a lot of controversy regarding the chemicals used in plastics.

Would you be able to supply me with a breakdown of the exact types of plastics that are used in these inhalers? You surely must know what your products are composed of!

Numerous studies of one chemical used in plastics, Bisphenol A (BPA), which is leached from Polycarbonate, have indicated a wide array of possible adverse effects from low-level exposure to this chemical: chromosome damage in female ovaries, decreased sperm production in males, early onset of puberty, various behavioural changes, altered immune function, and sex reversal in frogs. Its use is currently being phased out by many leading companies in Britain, who use it in their products.

Similarly, PVC has been described as one of the most hazardous consumer products ever created. It leaches di(2-ethylhexyl) phthalate (DEHP) or butyl benzyl phthalate (BBzP), depending on which is used as the plasticiser or softener (usually DEHP). DEHP and BBzP are endocrine disruptors mimicking the female hormone estrogen; have been strongly linked to asthma and allergic symptoms in children; may cause certain types of cancer; linked to negative effects on the liver, kidney, spleen, bone formation and body weight. In Europe, DEHP and BBzP and other dangerous pthalates have been banned from use in plastic toys for children under three since 1999.

I could go on and list the potential and proven harmful effects of many other chemicals used in plastic manufacture.

I would therefore be very grateful if you could send me a breakdown as stated, of the chemical compositions of the plastics used in your products."

I'll keep you informed


  1. Really good post John, that highlights a very important issue regarding medications. There is a lot of waste, not only in packaging but with medications themselves (story coming up at some point on MZW). Your idea of a refill for inhalers is a fine one that should be embraced by the medical companies; it's all savings for them at the end of the day ... I look forward to seeing if you get any helpful responses

  2. wishing you much success with your blog! glad to see you're spreading the message about plastic waste (caught your comment on Frugal Queen)