Let’s Talk Drug Waste

When people think about drug waste, they often think about the expired and unused prescriptions that are found lying in the cabinet or cupboard. How many of you think about the packaging, the vials, and blister packs that they came in? Drugs are often deposited in disposable vials to ensure their sanity and convenience. Rarely, patients receive it in their original manufacturing packaging. In fact, almost all pharmacies will put pills and tablets in their own vials. Today, however, I want you to take a moment and to either think or count how many vials you have or have had in your lifetime.

As a recent graduate from the U of A, all my prescription drugs were in distinct vials. In a total of four years, I accumulated about five vials from the pharmacy with only two pharmacy visits. My friend accumulated more as every time she went for a refill; the pharmacy would give her a new vial. What a waste! The same goes for blister packs. Pharmacies often provide seniors with a choice to fill their medication in disposable blister packs made of paper and plastic. After usage, seniors would throw away their used blister packs as they are not reusable.

Could the pharmacies not have refilled the prescriptions in the same vial or a reusable blister pack? I understand that the disposable vials and blister packs were prepared previously to maintain the efficiency of the facility, but the waste generated from these vials/blister packs is still insane! Could the pharmacy not just refill it into the same vial/blister packs every time? The answer is yes, they can, and most pharmacies I talked to are happy to do so. However, most pharmacies do not practice it because patients do not want to bring in their own vials. They expect the pharmacy to give them a new one every time, the way that some customers expect a new bag for their groceries. Additionally, such practice would force patients to wait for their prescriptions. Impatient customers do not want to wait, they will go to another pharmacy. As a result, pharmacy loses financially.

But if you are to think of it from the other side, the benefit of refilling prescriptions in reusable vials/blister packs is the reduction of the amount of waste generated. This will almost always decrease the demand for new vials, thus, decrease the amount of plastic used in making the vials. Although they may be small steps in the overall plastic production. Small steps like these are necessary for preserving our planet. All it requires is for everyone to bring in their own vials to the pharmacy and some patience while the pharmacy is filling out the prescription.

Remember, if your pharmacy does not offer you drugs in your reusable containers, you can always use the disposable vials for other storages such as needles, beads, etc. Similarly, buy a reusable blister pack as they can always be used for more refills! Thanks (=

Meng Wang

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