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Pharmacy can help lead the green fight

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Pharmacy can help lead the green fight

The most shocking statistic I have encountered recently is the pharmaceutical industry generates more greenhouse gases than the automobile industry, says Mohammed Hussain

We hear much about the impact of cars on the environment but little about that from pharmaceuticals.

Thankfully there have been a few trailblazers raising the profile of the environmental impact of pharmacy and pharmaceuticals such as Minna Eii and Tracy Lyons (founder of Pharmacy Declares). They have been successful in bringing the climate emergency debate front and centre in pharmacy.

The major environmental impact of pharmaceuticals comes from the emission of greenhouse gases, single use plastics and the generation of carbon dioxide through manufacture, energy utilisation and logistics. Inhalers are a significant source of greenhouse gasses.

The NHS has launched its own sustainability plan and has acknowledged that medicines account for 25 per cent of emissions from the NHS. In the same way that we would insist that where there are medicines there should be a pharmacist, we should insist that in making the use of medicines more sustainable, pharmacists should be in the vanguard.

Pressurised metered dose inhalers, in particular, have a climate impact. They can still contain 30 per cent of their original propellant even after the inhaler has dispensed all its medicine. It is estimated that 65 million inhalers are prescribed each year and with most being disposed in domestic waste, this releases the greenhouse gases.

Recognising the role of pharmacy, the NHS has encouraged the safe disposal of inhalers by returning them to pharmacies, with pharmacies undertaking an education initiative with patients as part of the Pharmacy Quality Scheme.

There are many ways that pharmacy can make its contribution. Some are obvious, others less so. The reduction of single use plastics is essential. This can be plastic bags for dispensed medicines, but pharmacies can also consider reducing or moving to biodegradable plastics in monitored dosage systems.

Going digital can be green. Consider virtual consultations and email reminders but be mindful that digital is not necessarily greener. Many of us can recognise this when we see stacks of tokens printed in the pharmacy when using EPS.

Consider switching off any electronic devices when they are not in use or at the end of the day. Encourage cycle-to-work schemes and car-pooling. Promote recycling in the pharmacy and consider the building itself - the heating, lighting and energy suppliers.

In my other organisations we encourage people to bring their own devices to work but many pharmacies prevent any use of personal devices They may then supply work phones and tablets. These all add to the carbon footprint.

There are bigger structural issues where we need regulators and representative bodies to step in. We used to have one wholesaler which was able to supply all the products we required, but now we have contracts with every wholesaler and they make deliveries to all pharmacies twice a day. This adds to a huge carbon footprint – the miles, the vans, the paper invoices, the increased traffic.

We have one planet, and we must tread more lightly to reduce the environmental impact we have on it. Reducing the use of stuff is essential. This is why deprescribing is a green initiative as much as a health initiative.

Recently, the RPS declared a climate emergency to tackle the issue. This is welcome but we need to be mindful of green washing. As members, we should hold the RPS to account to move away from fossil fuels, be transparent on its investments and reduce its carbon footprint.

Sending a certificate each year to 30,000 people to say how long they’ve been a member doesn’t seem very green, not to mention that, due to the shiny finish, it’s not even recyclable! The other big organisation in the pharmacy universe, the GPhC, is yet to declare a climate emergency and commit to divest from fossil fuels.

At the forthcoming RPS conference we should seek a visible reduction in single use plastics, plastic cups and even pens (sorry!), a reduction in business travel and greater use made of online events.

Declaring a climate emergency is just the beginning of change and the collective effort to address it should be never-ending.

Mohammed Hussain is an independent contractor and non-executive director at Bradford Teaching Hospitals Foundation Trust.

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