Removing Waste to Reduce Environmental ImpactWed, 09/05/2018 - 10:28
Hundreds of thousands of expired medicines, wasted medical supplies and drug packages are discarded every year, but not always in the right way. Due to their nature, these products can present a significant health and environmental risk if they are not treated with due security, says José Aedo, Director General of the National System for Packaging and Medicine Residue Management (SINGREM). “Throwing away old medicines without proper control causes an environmental impact since this waste ends up in landfills and can leak into groundwater. In Mexico, there is the additional danger of these drugs ending up on the black market,” Aedo says, adding that there is a significant business opportunity for companies willing to tackle the issue. SINGREM was created specifically to collect and properly dispose of medical waste.
To prevent environmental and health damage, the General Act for Prevention and Integral Waste Disposal establishes that companies that work with products that end up as hazardous waste, such as those in the pharmaceutical industry, must develop proper disposal strategies. “This act states that all manufacturers, sellers and distributors must either generate their own waste disposal plan or work with a company that disposes waste for them.” SINGREM is the only medical waste management system in Mexico for the residues generated at home.
The function of the association is not to collect waste from manufacturing companies, but from homes. “We have placed 5,000 waste disposal units in pharmacies, hospitals, government offices and schools in 26 states across Mexico where people can dispose expired medicines or medical supplies,” Aedo says. SINGREM is in charge of logistics for the collection and delivery for disposal of this waste and it has 30 vehicles, 17 storage warehouses across the country and 28 supervisors. The only process that is outsourced is the incineration of medical waste. “SINGREM is an example of the goals that pharmaceutical companies can achieve by uniting together. By February 2018, we were working with the generators of 62 percent of medicinal waste. Most of our members come from companies belonging to CANIFARMA, AMIIF and ANAFAM, but we are also attracting companies that do not belong to any of these associations.”
To achieve success, citizen participation is necessary. “We have observed a greater awareness among Mexicans of the importance of adequately eliminating expired medicines. Our pilot test in 2010 collected 9 tons of medical waste; in 2017, we collected 612 tons. We have reached 2,500 tons collected since the beginning of the program, equivalent to 200 fully loaded trucks.” The group also offers a program to which companies of any size can join as long as the company is willing to contribute.
However, a lack of regulatory enforcement is preventing more companies from joining the association, says Aedo. “Approximately 50 percent of the medicines that SINGREM collects are generics, but six of the 20 largest generics manufacturers in Mexico are not working with us. Local regulations are strong but there is hardly any enforcement, so companies often bypass the rules,” he says. A strict application of the existing regulations would be a good solution. Another approach would be to enact regulatory changes that further motivate companies to comply with the law. “Countries like Spain make it mandatory to have a complete record of the waste disposal for every registered product. Without it, it is not possible to register a drug.”
SINGREM is also working to convince all companies that handle medicines to join its project. “We have met with pharmacy chains to show them the benefits of this program. If we remove a container from a pharmacy, the pharmacy receives less traffic since some clients visit specific pharmacies to get rid of medical waste. In the case of manufacturers, developing their own waste management program is highly expensive.”
Considering the environmental benefits, the group’s goal is to face all challenges and continue expanding. “We want to continue expanding our infrastructure. To collect 1,000 tons per year, we have to install 2,000 more containers. As we continue growing, we also aim to introduce recycling practices for cardboard and paper and in the long term we might also include collection of veterinary products.”