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A Welsh Government funded inhaler recycling scheme is helping NHS Wales reduce its carbon emissions and work towards Net Zero ambitions, as a funding pot opens for the social and primary and community care sectors worth £800,000.

First published:
20 February 2023
Last updated:

Swansea Bay University Health Board (SBUHB) is using funding from the Health and Social Care Climate Emergency National Programme to pilot the responsible disposal of inhalers containing hydrofluorocarbon (HFC) gases.

The initiative is being trialled across eight pharmacies in the Upper Valleys Cluster, which covers parts of the Neath, Dulais, Swansea and Amman valleys, using patient education and promotional material, like stickers on medication bags and boxes, to encourage people to return used or unwanted inhalers to their pharmacy.

The Inhaler Recycling Pilot Project has used Welsh Government funding to establish a contract with Grundon Waste Management, which sees the inhalers collected and HFA gases recaptured, cleansed and reused in refrigeration. Both the aluminium and plastic casing of the inhalers are also being recycled.

A study by the Upper Valleys Cluster previously indicated 90% of inhalers were being sent to landfill via general household waste – this can see the HFA gases leak out of the inhalers and contribute to global warming.

A survey undertaken by a Cluster pharmacy reported that 97.5% of patients who took part said they would be willing to return the inhaler to their pharmacy. The Cluster’s aim is to recycle 80% of all inhalers prescribed in the programme area by 2025.

Niki Watts, Upper Valleys Cluster Lead Pharmacist, said: 

I ran a survey to find out why patients weren’t dropping their inhalers to the pharmacy because just two were returned in a few months.

The general consensus was they thought they would be recycled if disposed of in their household recycling, which isn’t the case. So, patients did not realise that their method was having a negative impact on the environment.

We educated patients on this, and it has proved very effective in what we’re trying to achieve with recycling inhalers.

Rhian Newton, Head of Prescribing and Medicines Management, added:

Success of this pilot is dependent upon the engagement of patients returning used inhalers to their local community pharmacy for recycling.

We would like to thank patients for their continued support to this extremely important project and for playing their part in ensuring we, as a collective, reduce carbon emissions in line with the green agenda.

NHS Wales Chief Executive Judith Paget said:

As one of the largest public sector emitters of CO2e, the NHS must act now to reduce its environmental impact and be an exemplar in taking steps to protect the health and wellbeing of future generations.

This inhaler recycling scheme is exactly the sort of initiative the NHS Wales Decarbonisation Strategic Delivery Plan wants to champion and scale across Wales. It is changing behaviour and helping Wales reduce its carbon emissions.

It is encouraging to see through the survey how many people realise we all have a role to play in the decarbonisation of our health service.

In 2022 the Minister For Health and Social Services agreed £2.4m for funding schemes in 2022/23 to 2024/25 to support the implementation and running of small-medium sized grassroots initiatives and projects that will help the sector respond to the climate emergency and reduce carbon emissions by more than a third by 2030.

In 2022/23, a total of 26 projects were supported by the funding scheme.

The 2023/24 Funding Scheme has now been launched and is open to Local Authorities working on social care projects. Funding will also be allocated to primary and community care champions who will support primary care contractors to deliver decarbonisation activities, at a cluster level, aligned to the Greener Primary Care Wales Framework.

Albert Heaney, Chief Social Care Officer for Wales, said:

This scheme is a valuable opportunity for Local Authorities to put social care at the front of helping Wales decarbonise and meet the challenges of the climate emergency.

Social care is one of the essential services which many people and all our communities rely upon, and so making it sustainable and beneficial to, not just people who receive care, but also to the environment around us, is absolutely essential.

NHS Wales Chief Executive Judith Paget added:

A significant proportion of contacts between the public and NHS services are undertaken in Primary and Community settings each week in Wales. By bringing these contractors together with Health Boards, local authorities, and third sector and social care organisations we can work towards our shared priority to decarbonise the Health and Social Care Sector in Wales.