InnovationEcological Impact of Pharmaceuticals: Greening the Pharmacy

Ecological Impact of Pharmaceuticals: Greening the Pharmacy

Ecological Impact of Pharmaceuticals

Serious studies reveal that new measures and research are needed to limit the ecological impact of pharmaceuticals; greening the global pharmacy industry. The growth of pollution arising from the production and consumption of synthetic chemicals outpaces all other environmental disruptors for example rising carbon dioxide emissions. Humans consume more pharmaceuticals than ever. Globally, 4.5 trillion doses of medicine will be used in 2020, and this number will continue to rise. Pets and livestock are also administered drugs. Pharmaceutical use brings huge benefits to human and animal health but it has led to increased pharmaceutical pollution of ecosystems throughout the world. Disease epidemics and pandemics may exacerbate this pollution, resulting in drug spikes in aquatic ecosystems that receive wastewater, resulting in unknown ecological impacts. 

Due to its high toxicity, radioactivity, toxic and toxic chemicals, and ability to develop diseases, medical waste is considered a hazardous waste. The extent of the presence of germs and viruses in the medical waste is the most hazardous aspect of this kind of waste. As the world’s population continues to expand the medical waste becomes more prevalent. Pharmaceutical plants are often incapable of filtering out all the chemical compounds used in their manufacturing process, which eventually seep into the oceans, lakes, streams and rivers. 

Ecological Impact of Pharmaceuticals: Greening the Pharmacy
Ecological Impact of Pharmaceuticals: Greening the Pharmacy

Many urban and rural sources of ground water, although clean and pure enough to drink contain trace amounts of pharmaceutical ingredients, from birth control pills, antidepressants, painkillers, shampoos, anti-epileptics, caffeine and many other pharma products. According to a US Geological Survey study, contamination levels downstream of two drug manufacturing facilities in New York were ten to 1000 times higher than at comparable facilities. This Pharmaceutical pollution not only affects the human life, but also severely damages the aquatic animals. A number of studies have indicated that Estrogen and chemicals that behave like it, have a feminizing effect on male fish and can alter female-to-male ratio. Such Estrogens can be found in birth control pills as mentioned earlier. The Potomac River, in the US, is known to have several intersex fish, which are fish with both female and male characteristics, mainly because of the pharma waste of the river. 

The solution to this ever-increasing menace can only be in having (1)proper drug disposal (2) tougher regulations on large scale medicine flushing (3) additional research pertaining to the potential dangers of pharma pollution (4) limit bulk purchases of pharmaceuticals.

Reference: Greening the pharmacy shelves: reducing the environmental impact of medicines
manufacture – The Pharmaceutical Journal (


What is being done about pharmaceutical pollution at EU level?

Certain EU legislation, such as the Directive on Medicines for Human Use and the Water Framework Directive, addresses pharmaceutical pollution peripherally.

A strategic approach will be created by the European Commission by 13 September 2015, which will “include proposals to enable, to the extent necessary, the environmental impacts of medicines to be taken into consideration more effectively in the process of placing medicinal products on the market.” 

As a follow-up to the strategic approach, the Commission will propose measures by 14 September 2017 to address the environmental impacts of pharmaceutical substances, “taking into account the need to protect public health and the cost-effectiveness of the measures proposed.”

How should I dispose of medicine?

The majority of EU Member States have implemented systems to collect unused and expired medicines. You can return unwanted medicines to your local pharmacy by asking a pharmacist. But always remember not to flush medicines down the toilet.

How can medical professionals help?

You can read more about how doctors can reduce pharmaceutical pollution here. Describes how pharmaceuticals reach the environment and their potential risks to wildlife and humans. Healthcare professionals are also advised to change prescription practices and educate patients on how to dispose of unused and expired medicines safely.

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