New pharmaceutical innovations are currently required to go through environmental risk assessment, however, even if risks are detected, it does not prevent getting authorisation to sell the pharmaceutical product. “The most important thing is still to ensure that the disease gets treated and that the medication is safe for the user. In the future, consumers will also be able to compare medical products based on the level of environmental risk they cause when an environmental classification system for pharmaceuticals will be introduced in Finland.
Alajärvi says that the implementation of the environmental classification of pharmaceuticals has not been confirmed yet, but it could present a competitive edge comparable to carbon neutrality for pharmaceutical companies. The minimisation of environmental risks should be incorporated into the pharmaceutical development process from its very beginning.
The SUDDEN project also examines solutions for increasing the effectiveness of the recycling of pharmaceutical packing materials and the removal of drug residue from wastewater. The recycling of blister packs is especially problematic as they are currently disposed of in mixed waste due to being comprised of plastic and aluminium that cannot be sorted separately.
Based on the survey, instead of disposing unused medicines in the sewer or mixed waste, which causes chemical burden on the environment, people in Finland often bring their unused medicines to the pharmacy, where they are disposed of accordingly. “Finns are model citizens in this regard,” says Alajärvi.
Alajärvi points out that protecting the environment is not sufficient reason for not taking medication when it is needed, however, choosing a smaller pack helps avoid generating medical waste. “The unnecessary use of pharmaceuticals should be avoided of course. There are also many non-pharmaceutical alternatives recommended for pain, for example. Life style choices can also eliminate the need to take medication.
Read more about the SUDDEN project: https://sudden.fi/en/