Today, we are more concerned about environmental issues than ever before.
Recent climate change and increased awareness surrounding issues like greenhouse gases, plastic pollution, and sustainable fuel sources have all brought environmentalism to the forefront of our minds.
But how do pharmacies stack up? Is a pharmacy an environmentally-friendly business model? How do online pharmacies compare to regular ones?
On the whole, it’s not too bad — but there’s some room for improvement. The pharmaceutical industry needs to change in order to keep up with the times and address some of these eco-issues…
Current environmental issues impacting businesses
Firstly, let’s start with some of the key environmental challenges all modern businesses must tackle.
Here are some of the most pressing environmental issues affecting businesses across the board, including pharmacies:
- Sustainable packaging
- Carbon footprint
- Ethical and sustainable practice
- Ethics & consumer awareness
- Supply chain
- Ecommerce/online business (online pharmacy).
Eco-friendly businesses are frequently looking to the online world as a place where innovation and freedom allows for more radical and eco-conscious ideas to take hold — changing the way we order toilet paper or razors, for example.
The same is true in the pharmacy world: the online opportunity provides patients with a more streamlined, efficient approach to healthcare. Online doctor services are slowly starting to replace pharmacies in a traditional retail setting.
Pharmaceutical and medical waste
One of the challenges to pharmaceutical sustainability is the potentially harmful waste produced by the pharmaceutical industry.
This includes manufacturing waste, medical waste caused by people throwing out drugs and pills, and plastic and packaging waste (a by-product of pharmacies). So-called PPCPs (pharmaceuticals and personal care products) are some of the biggest sources of household waste.
The rise of hormones and drugs in waterways has also been widely documented — something that may partly be caused by insufficient waste removal. Female sex hormones have been found in rivers around Europe — these hormones are affecting the fish who live in the rivers, and are a by-product of the female contraceptive pill.
Pharmaceutical production is a problem
It’s not necessarily the consumer-side of the pharmaceutical industry that’s the biggest problem: it’s the materials and energy that go into the manufacture of drugs — and the by-products of these processes. In the UK, 20% of the NHS carbon footprint is said to come from pharmaceutical products.
Pharmaceutical products entering the environment at different parts of their production lifecycle is a global environmental challenge. Campaigns like ‘Safer Pharma’ aimed at big manufacturers try to raise awareness of pharmaceutical environmental pollution.
A big issue with pharmaceutical pollution is that is also leads to dangerous things like drug resistance: diseases usually treated by antibiotics will no longer be treatable. Antibiotic drug resistance is said to launch a health crisis in the next decade.
The rise of the online pharmacy
The online pharmacy is the 21st century’s answer to patient-centred care.
Digital transformation has allowed online doctors, pharmacies, and chemists to grow on number and start to replace the traditional independent pharmacy and High Street retailer.
Online pharmacies have many benefits:
- Less environmental overheads (if using sustainable logistics)
- More freedom and privacy for people to treat themselves
- Independence for people unable to leave the house
- More accessible healthcare
In the UK, online pharmacies often offer free delivery and affordable prices — making getting the right treatment easier. Finding a chemist online is just as easy as going on Google, no matter where you live in the UK. Many pharmacists are embracing the new trend and setting up their own online businesses, mirrorring trends we’ve seen in other industries.
Plastic packaging has become one of the defining environmental issues of recent years. UK chemists like Boots and others have come under fire for excessive packaging, especially wrapping medicines in extra plastic.
Pharmacies and drug manufacturers often appeal to the need for drugs to be stored and transported safely, but consumers are starting to feel increasingly negatively towards plastic and excessive packaging.
The green pharmacy
An ageing population who will stay alive for longer than ever before, but with plenty of conditions and illnesses requiring pharmaceutical intervention, will require us to commit to creating greener and more sustainable pharmacies. Environmentally-friendly pharmacy practice will become the de facto approach.
One of the first steps is for pharmacies to investigate (and display) their carbon footprint, helping consumers make smarter decisions. Understanding the environmental impact of pharmaceuticals and placing it front-and-centre of the public consciousness will be essential. Public pressure will fuel pharmacy innovation.
The online pharmacy is likely to play a big part in innovation — and technology will play a big role in advancing pharmacies using AI, robotics, and drones.