Medicines and the environment

Pharmaceutical substances may find their way to the environment – especially after administration and with the waste.  The pharmaceutical branch actors aim at ensuring minimal environmental impacts from their operations. This is also required by the legislation related to the pharmaceutical branch. Pharmaceutical substance residues in the environment are so small that they have no impact on human health. However, it has been found that pharmaceutical residues may have a negative impact on fish and other aquatic organisms.

Most of the medicines end up in the environment through the sewage network after the medicine has been administered. The pharmaceuticals are washed from the skin with shower water or from the body through the toilet, both flows ending in sewage. Despite efficient wastewater treatment, all pharmaceutical residuals cannot be removed from the water.

There are also incorrect medicine disposal practices. Medicines may be thrown in sewage or household waste. Disposal of medicines should always take place in the appropriate way.  Expired or non-used medicines must be taken to the pharmacy.

Adhering to the Medicine-free Baltic campaign during the past two years, the pharmaceutical branch actors have shouldered their share of the environmental responsibility and made people more aware of the correct ways for medicine disposal.  

Each of us can carry our environmental responsibility through the correct use of medicines. Good instructions for the right way to use and dispose of medicines are available at the Fimea website.

Manufacturing causes a minimal part of the environmental impacts of medicines. Strict rules – the GMP rules (good manufacturing practice) – apply to the manufacture of medicines. Moreover, many companies comply to other rules and guidelines (e.g., ISO standards) to conduct high-quality operations also from the environmental point of view.

The EU-level legislation also focuses increasingly on the impact of medicines, especially as far as waterways are concerned.  Increasing attention is paid to the decrease of emission from pharmaceutical products as well as to the treatment of non-used medicines. The environmental impacts of a medicinal product must be reported when the marketing authorisation for the product is applied for. If the medicine is associated with potential environmental impacts, the pharmaceutical company must clarify how such risks can be limited. 

The situation is not so good globally. Large amounts of medicines are produced outside the EU, with less strict controls. The locally used medicines are not always covered by the same level of control as in the EU.

Please click here to read more:
Fimea: The correct way of medicine disposal – see instructions
Efpia: Pharmaceutical branch environmental responsibility at European level
Meds disposal – European campaign on the correct disposal of medicines.