PHILADELPHIA (Oct. 26, 2:30 p.m. ET) — Drug manufacturer GlaxoSmithKline LLC expects to recover at least 100,000 empty respiratory inhalers in the initial year of a first-of-a-kind nationwide recycling program in the United States.
The Complete the Cycle program was rolled out Oct. 24 to 2,000 pharmacies in 31 cities after a one-year pilot program at 53 pharmacies in five cities collect 2,700 inhalers, said Nathan Rohner, U.S. environmental sustainability manager for Philadelphia-based GSK.
“It is good for our patients, good for pharmacists and good for the environment. It helps everyone reduce waste to landfills,” Rohner said.
GSK has a similar program in the United Kingdom and a pilot inhaler recycling program in Santo Domingo, Chile.
The U.S. program is being administered and managed by recycler TerraCycle, which also has a year-old laboratory garment and glove recycling clean room initiative in Pleasanton, Calif., with Kimberly-Clark Professional.
“TerraCycle sends the collection boxes and the informational material to the pharmacies,” Rohner said.
The idea to recycle inhalers came from a 2008 survey of U.S. pharmacies.
GSK has signed up about 10 percent of the 20,000 pharmacies in the 31 markets where it has launched the program and expects more to join as word of the program spreads.
“Many stores in the pilot were pretty excited that we rolled out the program,” said Rohner. “They wanted back in when we launched it because it is easy and no cost.”
Consumers will be able to drop the empty inhalers into the collection boxes — which are about the size of a shoebox and have an opening on one end — at participating pharmacies, or return them to the pharmacy counter if the collection box is behind the counter.
Inside the box, there is a pre-paid self-sealable United Parcel Service bag, which the pharmacy ships to the Glaxo-contracted recycler, Material Matters Inc. in Asheville, N.C., which separates the metal canister and the plastic casing.
Inhalers of all brands with plastics casing can be recycled, not just those sold by GlaxoSmithKine, which is considered the top U.S. seller of respiratory medicines.
The recycled plastics will be used to make products such as garden pots and plastic hangers, Glaxo said.
Rohner said the program supports GSK's goal to reduce its waste sent to landfills by 25 percent by 2015.
“We chose respiratory inhalers because they have recyclable components to them,” Rohner said. “But we will be looking to grow the program” into more products.
The 31 cities were chosen, he said, because they have a “high recycling perception” and because they account for annual sales of 30 million inhalers, or one-third of the inhalers sold annually in the United States.
Pharmacies promote the program to consumers by stapling the inhaler recycling brochure to the prescription bag and putting a recycling sticker and logo on the box that contains the inhaler.
Some of the larger cities in the program are: Atlanta, Boston, Chicago, Dallas/Fort Worth, Denver, Los Angeles, Minneapolis/St. Paul, New York, Philadelphia, Portland, Seattle, Oakland, San Francisco, Seattle, St. Louis and Kansas City. A complete list is at www.GSKCompleteTheCycle.com.
Consumers interested in recycling inhalers on their own may also ship their empty inhalers — at their own expense — to Material Matters, 730 Brady Ave., Asheboro, N.C. 27203.