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Public urged to return inhalers to pharmacies to tackle global warming

Image shows a man holding an inhaler

People are being asked to return inhalers they no longer need to community pharmacies to help the fight against global warming.

A successful pilot project in the Upper Valleys Local Cluster Collaborative (LCC) saw 1,249 inhalers returned during a trial at the Vale of Neath Pharmacy over the course of a year.

Pictured: Upper Valleys LCC lead pharmacist, Niki Watts.

The success of the pilot, the first of its kind in Wales, has resulted in the LCC’s eight pharmacies now recycling the inhalers that are returned to them.

All elements of the inhaler are recycled for plastic and metal while remaining gases, which contribute to global warming, are compressed and reused.

Unwanted inhalers can be returned to any of Swansea Bay’s 93 community pharmacies.

It is hoped if enough inhalers are returned to pharmacies then the recycling scheme can be rolled out to the rest of the pharmacies within the health board - as it is in the Upper Valleys LCC.

Sam Page, Swansea Bay’s Head of Primary Care, said: “Community pharmacists can advise on the environmental impact of inhalers and the importance of returning them to the community pharmacy when they no longer need them.

“Pharmacies will send the inhalers for incineration which is safer for the environment than inhalers being put into general waste and going to landfill.

“It doesn’t matter whether they are empty or still have some dosage in them – we are encouraging people to take their inhalers to pharmacies for disposal.”

Thousands of seemingly empty plastic inhalers are sent with household waste to landfill or put in plastic recycling containers each year.

While it is thought they are empty, they still have residual gases in them which are harmful to the environment.

Niki Watts, the LCC’s lead pharmacist, said: “If inhalers are not disposed of appropriately, it can be harmful to the environment.

“The NHS strives to be carbon neutral and this would help us towards that goal.

“We have been doing this in the Upper Valleys LCC for the last 12 months and it has been very successful.

“We are seeing more and more patients returning their inhalers to our pharmacies.”

Members of the public can visit any community pharmacy throughout Swansea Bay to hand in their inhalers over the counter.

Staff have also been highlighting the impact inhalers have on the environment in other ways.

Two members of Swansea Bay’s pharmacy team recently created a project which showed the extent that swapping metered dose inhalers (MDIs) for dry powder inhalers (DPIs), where appropriate, would be good for patients and the planet.

As well as the environmental benefits, which would cut the health board’s carbon footprint by the equivalent of 552 round-the-world car trips, the switch will also help patients better manage their conditions.

Pharmacist-led clinics were set up to help improve asthma care, disease control and educate patients on inhaler technique as well as the impact that inhalers have on the environment.

Educating patients on the benefits this switch would have on their health and the environment resulted in a 79 per cent reduction in carbon emissions over the 10-week duration of the project.

Sam added: “The health board is committed to the decarbonisation agenda within the NHS.

“Increasing the amount of inhalers returned to pharmacies provides an opportunity for the recycling scheme to be rolled out to all pharmacies.

“We are hopeful that more patients will bring their inhalers in which will result in more pharmacies being able to recycle used inhalers in the future.”

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