A pilot recycling scheme for injection pens is being trialled at pharmacies around the UK, the Pharmaceutical Journal reports. The Danish multinational healthcare company Novo Nordisk launched the PenCycle scheme, which enables users of their FlexPen and Flextouch devices to return them at recycling points in pharmacies or through pre-paid Royal Mail boxes.

The injection pens are used to treat diabetes, obesity, and growth disorders, by allowing the user to inject themselves with insulin or other medications. According to The Guardian, the UK is facing a growing obesity crisis, and cases of diabetes have doubled in 20 years. It is thought that nearly 2 million people in England are at risk of developing the condition.

In 2020, one in six hospital beds were occupied by patients with diabetes. The most common form, type 2, means that the insulin in the body stops breaking down glucose, and levels of sugar become too high. It can lead to severe complications, including sight loss, heart problems, and damaged nerves.

There are thought to be nearly 2.5 million FlexPen and FlexTouch devices dispensed by UK pharmacies every year. The recycling scheme is being piloted at selected pharmacies in Greater Manchester, the Midlands, and Glasgow. If successful, Novo Nordisk hope to roll out the scheme nationwide during 2022.

Kevin Birch, chief retail officer at Lloyds Pharmacy, said: “reducing plastic waste in our healthcare settings is a key part of our approach, and so we’re delighted to be supporting PenCycle recycling initiative”.

He added: “Now, our customers can conveniently return their empty insulin pens when collecting their next prescription — a recycling decision that’s easy for them and great for the environment.”

Participating patients must remove the needle from the pen, before placing it in a return box. When there are 12 pens in the box, they can be placed in a recycling bin at the pharmacy. The collected devices will then be returned to Novo Nordisk’s headquarters in Denmark, where they are processed and eventually used to make items such as chairs.

The company aims to recycle 1.1 million pen devices by the end of 2022, increasing to 3 million, the equivalent of 56 tonnes of plastic waste, by 2023. Currently, used injection pens are sent straight to landfill.

It is not the first medical device recycling scheme, as pharma companies look at ways in which they can become more sustainable and reduce their carbon footprint. With the ever more urgent need to tackle climate change, all major multi-national companies are waking up to the fact that they need to adapt to survive.

For example, Chiesi, the Italian global pharma company, recently launched a recycling scheme for used inhalers in Leicestershire. The aluminium cannisters are reused, and the plastic components put back into the supply chain. Any remaining gases are expelled, and reused by fridge manufacturing companies.

Chiesi reported that only 62% of the pharmacies invited to sign up for their inhaler recycling scheme took up the offer, which is somewhat disappointing news.

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