Inhaler Recycling: Reducing Environmental Impact and Enhancing Public Health

12 June 2024

73 million inhalers are prescribed in the UK every year for patients with respiratory conditions like asthma and COPD. Inhalers account for around 3% of the NHS’s carbon dioxide emissions, with most emissions coming from the propellant gases used to push the medicine out of the device.

The Taskforce has written a policy paper on recycling inhalers to highlight the progress made by several localised inhaler recycling pilot schemes and to call for a national inhaler recycling scheme that benefits the environment and is accessible to patients.

Inhaler recycling can reduce the carbon footprint of inhalers by reusing plastics and metals that are incinerated or thrown away and by capturing spare gases which might otherwise go into the air. It can also improve the care that patients receive by enabling clinicians and prescribers to better understand how effectively inhalers are being used. This means that patients can get the treatment they need in the form that suits them best.

The Taskforce is calling for the NHS to increase inhaler recycling by introducing a national scheme that works for patients.

The Taskforce’s recommendations

We want NHS England to:

  1. Establish an NHS-funded National Inhaler Recycling Scheme (NIRS) that:
    • Develops and implements recycling solutions for all kinds of inhalers;
    • Places recycling with gas capture as the primary NHS disposal method for inhalers that use a gas propellant;
    • Ensures any scheme is as simple as possible for patients to use. Patient access must be prioritised through a scheme that balances ease of access with cost.
  2. Deliver a public information campaign alongside the scheme that raises awareness and drives patient engagement.
  3. Collect and analyse data on returned inhalers to improve prescribing and condition management for patient benefit and to reduce environmental impact.

If you have any questions about the paper or other policy areas, please contact us.