August 30, 2023

Pharmacycle: the new blister pack recycling option

Pharmacist Jeremy Elias is excited about the future.

It’s a future in which Australia is a little bit greener, a little bit healthier and we’re using our resources smarter.

Elias and his pharmacy, Terry White Chemist in Cheltenham – in Melbourne’s outer south-east – have recently signed up to the new Pharmacycle program, which collects and recycles one of the trickiest items to do so – medicine blister packs.

Established just last year, more than 200 pharmacies across Australia have already joined the Pharmacycle program, which – like The RUM Project – is free for customers to use. Elias explains that when customers come in to return their unwanted or expired medications to the RUM bin, he and other pharmacists have been informing them that they can now also bring in the blister packs for recycling into the Pharmacycle bins.

“Usually people just throw the blister packs out and they end up as landfill, and there are some people who take six or more medications each day, so it adds up to lots and lots of waste,” Elias says. “It affects everybody.”  

Pharmacycle compliments the work that The RUM Project Project has been doing for almost 25 years – safely disposing of unwanted and expired medications, such as tablets, creams and liquids – which means they don’t go to landfill and avoids contaminating our environment.

“Customers are more environmentally conscious and people who aren’t our customers are actually coming in to drop off their blister packs,” Elias says. 

Blister packs are an important item for recycling, given how many million are used every single year across the country; research shows that nine million Australians take one prescription medicine every day and eight million Australians take two or more prescription medicines every day. That’s not including the two million Australians that take over-the-counter medicines daily and the more than seven million Australians who take some sort of complementary medicine daily, too. 

“We take medicines for everything, and even though I work in the industry, it’s not something that I even think about; once something’s empty, you throw it in the bin but it all adds up enormously,” he says.

An unexpected benefit is that by keeping blister packs out of RUM bins, it frees up more space in the bins to accept even more unwanted or expired medications. In just the last financial year (2022-23) more than 900kg of medication across the country was disposed of via The Rum Program – an increase of four per cent on the previous year. So any extra room that can be made in RUM bins by being able to recycle blister packs separately will be most welcome.

Elias found out about the Pharmacycle program when it was featured on the ABC’s War on Waste television program, in which host Craig Reucassel ‘returned’ boxes of used blister packs to pharmaceutical companies to highlight the fact that they don’t need to end up as landfill waste.

While there have been some blister pack recycling programs already, they have involved households collecting their own blister packs and mailing them in bulk to be recycled, and at a cost, too. 

Elias says the program will make it much easier for customers to recycle blister packs, which, because they’re made up of different materials, including aluminium and plastics, can’t be included in kerbside recycling bins. And because aluminium is a super element that can be recycled infinitely, every blister pack that goes to landfill is truly wasting endless opportunities for its reuse.

He adds that while his pharmacy is only new to the Pharmacycle program, customers have already embraced it enthusiastically.

“It’s been pretty good. We’re trying to spread awareness about it, as not a lot of people know about it just yet,” Elias explains. “I don’t think a lot of people realise that blister packs aren’t recyclable in kerbside pickups, so using my parents as an example, when they finish their medication, they put their blister packs in the recycling bin.

“Educating people about the program is a process.”

While Elias is doing his bit, he hopes to see Australia’s large pharmacy chains adopt the program, and ideally, have the program paid for by the pharmaceutical companies that produce the waste.

To find out more about the PharmaCycle program, click here.

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