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Environmental Impact
All pharmaceutical companies want to reduce the environmental impact of their activities as part of achieving a more sustainable business.

GlaxoSmithKline's research plant at Stevenage for example has minimal environmental effects on the local community due to a rigorous waste management programme. Almost all waste is incinerated on site at 1200 degrees which prevents dioxin formation and which allows only clean exhaust from the stacks. Stevenage is a research site so the amount of waste is actually quite small in industrial terms. For example, most chemical reactions are done on the 3 mg scale. The selection of chemicals is strictly monitored to maximise recycling, but where that cannot be achieved, any residual waste is sent to a specialist disposal company.

Waste paper is recycled; waste glass is incinerated to burn off residues and then recycled; inert ash from the incinerator is sent to landfill. All waste solvents from the R&D site are incinerated, as is all aqueous waste which has been in contact with research chemicals. Waste filter papers, gloves, plastic packaging, plastic pipettes and any other solids which might be chemically contaminated are also incinerated. The incinerator exhaust uses appropriate scrubbers and electrostatic plates to remove acidic gases and particulate solids.

Pfizer's environmental, health and safety performance goes well beyond what is required to comply with stringent regulatory and legal requirements. Over the last ten years Pfizer has reduced its immediate impact on air, water and soil significantly. Pfizer's main environmental impact comes from the Sandwich site in Kent where they use significant amounts of energy and water, cause emissions to the air and produce various types of waste.

All companies are striving to cut their resources and many examples can be found where this policy runs through everyday's business of companies. Careful use of resources with minimal environmental impact is an important factor in sustainable development. For example, reflecting its commitment to sustainability, Actelion continuously strives to reduce its consumption of materials and energy, and to cut the quantities of waste and emissions it generates, for example by strictly separating and recycling where possible, and correctly disposing of all toxic, hazardous and biological waste.
Companies also carry out work to establish what impact traces of medicines have when they make their way into the waste water and the environment. Pharmaceutical ingredients can reach the environment in three ways -emissions from manufacturing facilities, disposal of waste medicines, and residues of medicines reaching the environment via the patient following treatment. Of these, the last is by far the greatest contributor.

Traces of many active pharmaceutical ingredients can be found in the environment; particularly in surface water courses (e.g. rivers and lakes). The amounts found are extremely small; but, as the level of detection by newer analytical methods becomes increasingly low, the number of products found may increase.

With two notable exceptions there is no evidence of adverse effects, either to the environment or human health, due to the presence of pharmaceuticals in the environment. Of the two cases the first involved the improper veterinary use of diclofenac in India which led to massive decreases in the number of some local species of vulture in areas of the Himalaya. When the vultures feed on the carcasses of livestock treated with diclofenac it has a lethal effect on the kidney. In the second case there have also been instances reported where the presence of oestrogenic substances in waste water, among which is ethinyloestradiol used in the contraceptive pill, affects fish near the outflows from sewage treatment plants creating male fish which have some female characteristics such as egg production and a more female appearance.

Industry is actively co-operating and working with other stakeholders to understand more fully and to assess the significance of the presence of pharmaceutical ingredients in the environment. Some respiratory therapies, specifically metered dose inhalers, used to rely on propellants such as hydrofluoroalkanes to deliver the medicine to the patients' airways. Such propellants are greenhouse gases, but the potential benefits that these products offer patients have to be balanced against the potential impact on the environment. However, new technology such as dry powder inhalers now enable these therapies to be delivered without any propellant gases.

Medicines wrongly disposed can end up in landfills or in waste water. Therefore the industry supports schemes which educate patients and consumers that any unused or unwanted medicines can and should be returned to pharmacies for safe disposal. Any medicines which are returned to pharmacies are incinerated under the control of waste operators licensed by the Environment Agency.
ABPI is working with the NHS Sustainability Unit to look at ways in which the pharmaceutical sector can further reduce its carbon footprint. Examples include reduction in energy consumption, travel commitments, waste and resources.

Below is a list of some examples what companies are doing to reduce their carbon footprint and strive towards a sustainable business:

Pfizer has also introduced state-of-the-art programmes such as the Green Transport Scheme which have a beneficial effect on the environment. Pfizer also aims to reduce the use of energy at their sites and actively encourages their employees to do the same in their own homes.

AstraZeneca believes that their primary responsibility is to reduce their carbon footprint by, amongst other things, improving their own and, where practical, their supply partners' energy efficiency; and by pursuing lower-carbon alternatives to fossil fuels.

AstraZeneca recognises that climate change is not just an environmental issue, but also one that affects the health and livelihood of millions of people because of the links to complex issues such as poverty, economic development and population growth. Climate change is one aspect of sustainability and it is not sufficient to deal with climate risks in isolation. The climate issue must be framed in the wider context, including efficient uses of materials; availability of safe, clean water; reducing travel and transport; supply chain accountability; healthcare innovation; and infrastructure improvement.

Climate change requires a holistic approach to find and develop solutions. GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) for instance have therefore shifted their strategy to focus much more on sustainability and long term goals than mere environmental accounting.

GSK's high priority sustainability issues are:
  • Manufacturing efficiency - reducing the amount of raw materials needed to produce a finished product
  • Climate change - reducing the climate impacts of our buildings, equipment, transport and products
  • Water - reducing the amount of water we use
  • Product stewardship - reducing the use of materials of concern and the environmental impacts of our products after use by the patient
  • Packaging - reducing the amount of packaging we use and using recyclable and recycled materials
With regard to energy, Novartis monitors the purchase and use of all types of energy and fuels. Energy use comprises: purchased energy (including electricity, steam and hot water), on-site energy (generated mainly from the combustion of gas, but also other fuels such as oil), and energy from waste and bio-fuels at Novartis sites. On-site energy that is sold to third parties is subtracted. In addition, energy costs are systematically monitored and reported.

In 2005, Novartis made a voluntary commitment to reduce on-site emissions of greenhouse gases (GHG) to the level prescribed in the Kyoto protocol: i.e. 5% below the 1990 level for the period 2008-2012. By the time Novartis announced this intention, energy consumption had risen well above the 1990 benchmark level this means that GHG emissions must shrink by about 100 000 tons of CO2 each year to achieve the target. During 2008, Group-wide GHG emissions totalled 404,000 tons. New ways to save energy are being considered and for large investments a review of energy-usage implications by an energy expert is mandatory. New projects are a major focus because it is more effective to build in energy efficiency from the beginning than to revamp an existing system.

Companies are actively embracing environmental strategies on a global scale within their business. At UCB for instance the aim for 2010 is to develop a global environmental carbon footprint reduction strategy which will run throughout the entire business.