New Inhaler Recycling Project Launched to Combat Climate Change in South East London

08 Jul 2024

The South East London Integrated Care System (SEL ICS) has launched the only nationally-funded inhaler recycling pilot in England across 20 south east London community pharmacies. The first recycling site went live at King’s College Hospital in February 2024.

Backed by funding from NHS England, the six-month long pilot aims to reduce greenhouse gases from prescribed inhalers that are not properly disposed of.

Pictured left to right: Aimee Mutambo, Lead Pharmacist (Bexley Borough, SEL ICB); Vanshri Shah, Specialist Pharmacist – Adult Cystic Fibrosis and Respiratory (KCH); Laura Stevenson, Associate Chief Pharmacist and Medicines Sustainability Lead (KCH); LJ Smith, Consultant Respiratory Physician (KCH), Min Na Eii Chief Sustainability Officer’s Clinical Fellow (SEL ICB)

These gases primarily arise from the propellant used in pressurised metered-dose inhalers rather than the medicine itself, each capable of emitting environmentally harmful greenhouse gases equivalent to driving 71.8 miles in an average petrol car.

The pilot will encourage patients to return their used or expired inhalers to community pharmacies before being sent to specialist facilities at Grundon Waste Management for recycling, to recover and repurpose a substantial portion of these harmful gases.

The scheme is a collaborative effort between SEL ICS, NHS England, Greener NHS and multiple stakeholders across the ICS. This project also goes towards meeting the objectives set out in the SEL ICS Green Plan 2022-2025 of ensuring no clinical waste goes to landfill and reducing environmental impact of inhalers.

Laura Stevenson, Pharmacist at King’s College Hospital who was nominated for the HSJ Towards Net Zero Award 2023 and submitted the initial project bid said:

“Medicines make up 25% of the NHS carbon footprint, which is a staggering statistic! The climate crisis is a health crisis, and we need to take decisive action to ensure we minimise our environmental impact; returning your inhaler to your local pharmacy or hospital can play a huge part in this. We can reach Net Zero by 2050 with these important actions and we need your help to do it, recycle your inhalers and help us create a greener NHS.”

Dr. Laura-Jane Smith, Consultant Respiratory Physician at King’s College Hospital who is also part of the project team said:

“We know how worried people are about the health effects of climate change, especially as people with respiratory disease are more vulnerable to heat and air pollution. By taking the simple step of returning inhalers to local pharmacies and hospitals, instead of putting them in home waste, patients can ensure the NHS can recycle the inhalers and avoid them going to landfill. Working together we can create powerful solutions.”

Patients who are currently prescribed metered dose inhalers can also speak to their clinicians about trialling greener inhalers to help reduce carbon emissions. Improving inhaler techniques with a suitably chosen inhaler can improve lung health and reduce risks of asthma attacks.

More information about the project can be found here. The project team is also currently surveying public views about returning inhalers, have your say here.