The Global Asthma Report for 2022 highlighted South Africa's high incidence of childhood asthma, placing it at the forefront of a critical health concern on the African continent. However, the standard treatment for asthma, pressurised metered-dose inhalers (pMDIs), carries a significant environmental burden.
Every year, over six million asthma inhalers are dispensed in South Africa, with many ending up as medical waste in landfills. These devices contain a propellant called hydrofluoroalkane (HFA), a greenhouse gas contributing to climate change. Even when seemingly empty, inhalers continue to release residual gases, further harming our environment.
Improperly discarded inhalers not only harm the environment but also pose risks to wildlife and human health. Residual medication in discarded inhalers can leach into the soil and contaminate groundwater. Additionally, mishandling these devices during waste management processes can lead to hazardous situations, including explosions or fires. In response to these challenges, Cipla South Africa has introduced an asthma inhaler recycling initiative as part of its sustainability efforts. This initiative – the first of its kind in Africa – involves dedicated asthma inhaler recycling bins in selected pharmacies in Gauteng and the Western Cape during the campaign’s pilot phase. With a lifespan of five years, these bins have been designed with a specialised locking mechanism and a master key that is provided to the responsible pharmacist.
Cipla has partnered with a specialised medical waste management company to collect the bins. Thereafter, the inhalers are separated into their three different components: the plastic actuator, the metal canister, and the metering valve. With Cipla’s campaign, the plastic components will be recycled and repurposed into functional items that benefit local communities, promoting a circular economy and reducing plastic waste.
While still in its pilot phase, what sets this campaign apart is its inclusivity: Cipla's recycling initiative is not limited to their own inhalers but extends to any type of asthma inhaler, regardless of the manufacturer. To ensure the success of this initiative, Cipla South Africa plans to partner with various asthma-related associations.
However, the effectiveness of this initiative relies on active participation from the public. “Our objective is to empower patients by equipping them with the knowledge required to use their asthma inhalers correctly and dispose of them responsibly," explained Paul Miller, the CEO of Cipla South Africa. As climate change worsens, rates of asthma and other respiratory illnesses – and the use of inhalers – are expected to rise. Healthcare professionals, as indispensable partners in the healthcare system, can play a vital role by informing their patients about Cipla’s inhaler recycling project. In doing so, they offer a comprehensive approach to patient care, enabling their patients to partake in eco-conscious practices while effectively managing their health conditions. Aligning with the principles of holistic healthcare, this approach fosters a sense of well-being that extends beyond the clinical setting.
Patients can return inhalers which are no longer being used to any of the following participating pharmacies:
For more information about Cipla’s asthma inhaler recycling initiative, visit https://www.cipla.co.za/about-cipla/sustainability/inhaler-recycling-project