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Seeing Green

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By Brian Swartz, RPh

For most small business owners, managers, and CEOs, being environmentally conscious isn’t always high on the list of priorities, mainly because it doesn’t appear to directly increase profitability or the value of the business. The argument could be made that labor costs will be higher if employees spend too much time trying to adhere to recycling policies.

However, after taking into account all of the resources that businesses use—including water, electricity, paper, cardboard, and new computers—the potential to add to the bottom line becomes more apparent. In addition, all businesses, small or large, have an obligation to be environmentally conscious when it comes to using and conserving resources.

Pharmacy Care, an independent pharmacy located in Middleville, Michigan, has demonstrated how easy and seamless it is to be environmentally responsible by implementing a number of simple practices and policies. One example is to turn down the thermostat at night to save on utility costs. This takes almost no time and can result in significant cost savings.

Another step pharmacies can take is to stop buying bottled water for the staff and attach a water filter to the sink, a change incorporated by Pharmacy Care about a year ago. Since then, the pharmacy has saved $20 dollars per month while substantially decreasing the amount of garbage produced (128 empty bottles per month).

Keeping It Local
Pharmacy Care goes to great lengths to donate scrap paper and non-corrugated cardboard to the local high school art department and to PaperGator, a fund raising effort for non-profit organizations. Certified pharmacy technician Julie Cool coordinates the effort by dropping off 4 boxes of paper every week, which helps the high school save money on pressed cardboard. Another benefit in making these types of donations is that it can improve the pharmacy’s reputation in the local community, as well as resulting in free advertising.

Pharmacy Care also recycles corrugated cardboard, medication stock bottles, and old prescription vials—after patient-sensitive information has been removed, which helps decrease the amount of waste going to landfills by more than half. Many businesses already have a separate dumpster for corrugated cardboard; with this initiative, Pharmacy Care has taken it one step further. Small businesses that want to set up similar plastic recycling programs can contact their local garbage disposal company for more information.

Environmental Obligations Unique to Pharmacies
Part of being environmentally responsible means educating patients on the proper disposal of unwanted/unused medications and providing a means of safe disposal. There have been recent reports of trace amounts of medicines found in the water system, and although it is unlikely that these findings are the result of people flushing medicine down the toilet, the FDA does not recommend flushing most medicines.

In the recently released guidelines, the FDA recommends organizing a drug take-back program or recycling program in the community. Patients can do this by contacting the local trash and/or recycling company. As part of its recycling program, Pharmacy Care collects unwanted/unused prescription and OTC medications year-round from patients and disposes of them at the Barry County hazardous waste program/medication take-back programs in May and October.

If a drug take-back program is not available in a particular area, the FDA recommends mixing most unwanted medications with an undesirable substance such as coffee grounds or cat litter, putting it in a sealed container like an old margarine tub, and then including it with the regular garbage. “This way, it will be unappealing to children, and unrecognizable to people who intentionally go through your garbage,” the FDA stated on its Web site.

The FDA also recommends flushing selective medications that are potentially hazardous to prevent them from being accidentally ingested. For a list of these medications, click here. The disposal guidelines can be found here.

Finally, the FDA also advises removing or scratching out all identifying information located on medication bottles or packages.

Other Recycling Opportunities in the Pharmacy
Pharmacy Care is also participating in GlaxoSmithKline’s pilot inhaler take-back program, for which GSK is partnering with pharmacies in southwest Michigan to recycle old respiratory inhalers used for conditions such as asthma or COPD. The program is taking place from July 2010 through July 2011. To enroll or for more information, call GSK at 1-888-825-5249.

Finally, businesses like Pharmacy Care rely heavily on equipment such as computers, copy machines, paper shredders, and phones. When these items need to be replaced, the old units can be taken to Best Buy as part of its electronics recycling program. Anyone wishing to participate in this recycling effort can call or stop by their local Best Buy, or visit the Web Site.

Pharmacy Care has demonstrated how environmentally responsible policy and practice can bring actual value to the business, as well as generating a positive reputation in the local community. Part of that responsibility includes providing an outlet for patients to properly dispose of medications, which can help build customer loyalty. Pharmacy Care has developed a model that other pharmacies can adopt. The organization believes that if small businesses view environmental responsibility as an opportunity to bring value to their business, everyone wins—more recycling will take place, and the businesses that are involved in recycling will become more viable.

Brian Swartz, RPh, is a pharmacist and owner of Pharmacy Care, an independent pharmacy located in Middleville, Michigan.