Huge amounts of prescription drugs end up in the garbage every year. In France, almost half of all medications are probably not used. To limit this wastefulness, the government is considering selling prescription drugs in single doses. In the meantime, we can all sort through our medicine cabinets.
Recovering the energy from unused prescription drugs provides light and heat for the equivalent of 7,000 homes.
Since 2007, pharmacies have been required to collect old prescription drugs. The goal is twofold: to improve safety by preventing the risk of accidentally ingesting or confusing drugs, and ensuring they don’t end up in the environment.
The association Cyclamed – a pharmaceutical industry umbrella organization - is responsible for collecting and processing unused medications. It’s a huge resource. According to a study carried out by the CSA Institute, it represents 19,000 tonnes per year.
After checking the prescription drugs that have been returned, the pharmacist places them in a special container. Once filled, the containers are collected by the wholesalers and transported to an incineration plant. The energy produced is recovered in the form of heat or electricity. According to Cyclamed, "the energy recovered from unused prescription drugs in 55 recovery plants provides light and heat to the equivalent of 7,000 homes."
Recovering the energy from our medications starts by quickly sorting them at home. Before taking them to the pharmacist, put all the cardboard boxes and paper notices into the selective sorting bins, and put the medications still in their packs or bottles in a bag. This means all unused medications whether or not they are out of date namely : tablets, capsules, ointments, creams and gels, syrups, vials, suppositories, patches, aerosols, sprays and inhalers.
People in France are increasingly taking this eco-citizen action - part of an overall approach to sorting waste. A March 2010 BVA survey revealed that almost 80% of people reported returning their unused prescription drugs to their pharmacist. In 2016, 11,884 tonnes of unused medicines were collected and recovered.