HCWH Europe releases new guide to help doctors reduce pharmaceutical pollution

Brussels, 8 January 2014    Health Care Without Harm (HCWH) Europe has released 'How doctors can help reduce pharmaceutical pollution', a new guide designed to help doctors reduce unnecessary pharmaceutical emissions from entering the environment.

Pharmaceutical residues are consistently entering the environment through the improper disposal of pharmaceuticals and the excretion of pharmaceutical residues. The impact on our environment, and subsequently our health, is now a matter of high concern.

Between 30-90% of an oral dose can be excreted as an active substance in urine. [1] A high number of unused pharmaceuticals are also disposed of incorrectly with patients disposing of medicine in toilets and sinks. In the EU, an estimated 50% of unused pharmaceuticals are not collected. [1]

Wastewater treatment does not entirely remove pharmaceutical residues; even the most advanced treatment methods leave around 10% of pharmaceuticals in treated water, which then re-enter our water supply. [2] Drinking water can contain pharmaceutical residues [3], vegetables can take these up through irrigation with wastewater [4] and fish can bio-accumulate pharmaceuticals. [5]

As a result, humans are continuously exposed to low concentrations of pharmaceutical residues. In Europe, concerns about the subsequent health impact are amplified by the expected increase in pharmaceutical consumption through the demand from ageing populations and the wider cultural tendency to depend on pharmaceutical drugs.

Doctors are ideally placed to help reduce the risk for accumulation of unused pharmaceuticals. As those responsible for controlling the duration and dosage of individual prescriptions, doctors can play a vital role in helping to reduce unnecessary emissions through simple practices.

HCWH Europe's new guide, 'How doctors can help reduce pharmaceutical pollution', contains advice on simple practices which can have a significant impact on pharmaceutical waste reduction, such as prescribing antibiotics prudently and prescribing the smallest packages possible. This also urges doctors to play a key role in educating patients about altering their purchasing and disposal behaviour. 

“This is not just a matter of protecting the environment, but protecting ourselves in the long run,” adds Anja Leetz, Executive Director of HCWH Europe. “We need to act urgently on reducing the amount of medicines we release into the environment, if we want to continue using soil and water for our own food production and drinking water.”


Media: Rosalind Simpson, Communications and Press Officer, HCWH Europe

E. rosalind.simpson@hcwh.org T. +32 2503 4911

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[1] BIO Intelligence Service. 2013.

[2] EurEau. 2014.

[3] WHO. 2012.

[4] Boxall ABA et al. 2006.

[5] Brooks BW et al. 2005.