Towards Sustainable Pharmaceutical Management

The pharmaceutical industry has a substantial impact on the environment, especially when the materials used to make them and the chemicals that comprise make their way directly into the environment. The pharmaceutical industry at large as well as average consumer can take steps to make of use of medicine more sustainable through both significant and relatively minor changes.

Medicines and the Environment

The drugs that we consume naturally enter our environment as our body turns them to waste. This issue becomes exacerbated when people intentionally dispose of unused medicine by flushing it down the drain.

Although our water treatment systems are designed to take contaminants out of our wastewater before we re-introduce to the natural environment, some still get through. These contaminants, which include those in medications, can damage the ecosystems they end up in.

High levels of estrogen in waters due to birth control, for example, can hamper the ability of fish to reproduce, reducing their population size. Once those chemicals find their way into the water, they enter the food chain and eventually impact animals that live on land too, including humans.

Plants will absorb the chemicals from medications. Animals then eat these plants or drink the water and ingest the contaminants. Humans might drink the water or eat the plants or animals, making pollution from pharmaceuticals a human health hazard as well. This problem becomes worse in the summer when livestock such as cattle require two to three times as much water as they do during other times of the year.

Proper Disposal of Medicines

If you have unused medications that you need to get rid of, don’t flush them down the drain or throw them straight into the trash. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends one of several other options for the safe and sustainable disposal of medicines.

Some communities have drug take-back programs that the Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) approves. Some pharmacies also allow you to mail in or dispose of unused medications at kiosks. The DEA also organizes a national drug take-back day.

Although certain medications have recommendations on the label to flush them, you can dispose of the majority of them in your regular trash at home. The FDA recommends mixing them with something unpalatable such as dirt, kitty litter or coffee grounds in a plastic bag that you can seal. This disguises the drugs and prevents pets from getting into them. You can then throw the bag away.

If you are a throwing away a prescription medication container, be sure to scratch out all potentially identifying information to protect your privacy and identity.

Using Medicines More Sustainably

Another option for reducing the impact your use of medicine has on the environment is to use less of it or use more environmentally friendly medications.

To use less medicine, only use it when you truly need it and try substituting natural remedies for pharmaceuticals. Reach for naturally derived treatments such as essential oils, vitamins, herbs or a cup of hot tea. Always consult with your doctor before changing your medication regimen.

As a long-term strategy, regular exercise and a healthy diet can do wonders in improving your overall health and decreasing your need to take medicines.

Sustainability from the Industry’s Perspective

Of course, making the pharmaceutical industry more sustainable isn’t the sole responsibility of the consumer. The industry can also change its practices to manage pharmaceuticals in a more environmentally friendly fashion.

One aspect of this involves energy use. The manufacturing and transportation of medications can be extremely energy-intensive. By using energy more efficiently and using cleaner energy, drug companies can reduce their environmental impact.

Pharmaceutical industry can change its practices to manage pharmaceuticals in a more ecofriendly manner.

These corporations can also make an effort to include more eco-friendly substances in their medications. While they may not be able to remove every non-natural chemical from their products, they can offer greener alternatives to consume and look into reducing the presence of damaging substances as much as possible.

This applies not only to the organizations closest to the consumers but to the entire supply chain.

Medications are often vital to our health, but it can also have a negative impact on the health of our environment. Taking steps to manage pharmaceuticals more sustainably can enable us to protect our own well-being as well as that of our environment.

Biomass Energy and Sustainability

biomass-sustainabilityBiomass energy systems offer significant possibilities for reducing greenhouse gas emissions due to their immense potential to replace fossil fuels in energy production. Biomass reduces emissions and enhances carbon sequestration since short-rotation crops or forests established on abandoned agricultural land accumulate carbon in the soil. Biomass energy usually provides an irreversible mitigation effect by reducing carbon dioxide at source, but it may emit more carbon per unit of energy than fossil fuels unless biomass fuels are produced in a sustainable manner.

Biomass resources can play a major role in reducing the reliance on fossil fuels by making use of thermo-chemical conversion technologies. In addition, the increased utilization of biomass-based fuels will be instrumental in safeguarding the environment, generation of new job opportunities, sustainable development and health improvements in rural areas.

The development of efficient biomass handling technology, improvement of agro-forestry systems and establishment of small and large-scale biomass-based power plants can play a major role in sustainable development of rural as well as urban areas. Biomass energy could also aid in modernizing the agricultural economy and creating significant job opportunities.

Harvesting practices remove only a small portion of branches and tops leaving sufficient biomass to conserve organic matter and nutrients. Moreover, the ash obtained after combustion of biomass compensates for nutrient losses by fertilizing the soil periodically in natural forests as well as fields.

The impact of forest biomass utilization on the ecology and biodiversity has been found to be insignificant. Infact, forest residues are environmentally beneficial because of their potential to replace fossil fuels as an energy source.

A quick glance at popular biomass resources

A quick glance at popular biomass resources

Plantation of energy crops on abandoned agricultural land will lead to an increase in species diversity. The creation of structurally and species diverse forests helps in reducing the impacts of insects, diseases and weeds. Similarly the artificial creation of diversity is essential when genetically modified or genetically identical species are being planted.

Short-rotation crops give higher yields than forests so smaller tracts are needed to produce biomass which results in the reduction of area under intensive forest management. An intelligent approach in forest management will go a long way in the realization of sustainability goals.

Improvements in agricultural practices promises to increased biomass yields, reductions in cultivation costs, and improved environmental quality. Extensive research in the fields of plant genetics, analytical techniques, remote sensing and geographic information systems (GIS) will immensely help in increasing the energy potential of biomass feedstock.

A large amount of energy is expended in the cultivation and processing of crops like sugarcane, coconut, and rice which can met by utilizing energy-rich residues for electricity production. The integration of biomass-fueled gasifiers in coal-fired power stations would be advantageous in terms of improved flexibility in response to fluctuations in biomass availability and lower investment costs. The growth of the biomass energy industry can also be achieved by laying more stress on green power marketing.

Green SMEs: Catalyst for Green Economy

Green SMEsWith ‘green’ being the buzzword across all industries, greening of the business sector and development of green skills has assumed greater importance all over the world. SMEs, startups and ecopreneurs are playing a vital role in the transition to a low-carbon economy by developing new green business models for different industrial sectors. Infact, young and small firms are emerging as main drivers of radical eco-innovation in the industrial and services sectors.

What are Green SMEs

Green SMEs adopt green processes and/or those producing green goods using green production inputs. A judicious exploitation of techno-commercial opportunities and redevelopment of business models, often neglected by established companies, have been the major hallmarks of green SMEs. For example, SMEs operating in eco-design, green architecture, renewable energy, energy efficiency and sustainability are spearheading the transition to green economy across a wide range of industries. The path to green economy is achieved by making use of production, technology and management practices of green SMEs.

Categories of Green Industries

Environmental Protection Resource Management
Protection of ambient air Water management
Protection of climate Management of forest resources
Wastewater management Management of flora and fauna
Waste management Energy management
Noise and vibration abatement Management of minerals
Protection of biodiversity and landscape Eco-construction
Protection against radiation Natural resource management activities
Protection of soil, groundwater and surface water Eco-tourism
Environmental Monitoring and Instrumentation Organic agriculture
Research and Development Research and Development

Key Drivers

The key motivations for a green entrepreneur are to exploit the market opportunity and to promote environmental sustainability. A green business help in the implementation of innovative solutions, competes with established markets and creates new market niches. Green entrepreneurs are a role model for one and all as they combine environmental performance with market targets and profit outcomes, thus contributing to the expansion of green markets.

Some of the popular areas in which small green businesses have been historically successful are renewable energy production (solar, wind and biomass), smart metering, building retrofitting, hybrid cars and waste recycling.  As far as established green industries (such as waste management and wastewater treatment) are concerned, large companies tend to dominate, however SMEs and start-ups can make a mark if they can introduce innovative processes and systems. Eco-friendly transformation of existing practices is another attractive pathway for SMEs to participate in the green economy.

The Way Forward

Policy interventions for supporting green SMEs, especially in developing nations, are urgently required to overcome major barriers, including knowledge-sharing, raising environmental awareness, enhancing financial support, supporting skill development and skill formation, improving market access and implementing green taxation. In recent decades, entrepreneurship in developing world has been increasing at a rapid pace which should be channeled towards addressing water, energy, environment and waste management challenges, thereby converting environmental constraints into business opportunities.

Importance of Biomass Energy

Biomass energy has rapidly become a vital part of the global renewable energy mix and account for an ever-growing share of electric capacity added worldwide. As per a recent UNEP report, total renewable power capacity worldwide exceeded 1,470 GW in 2012, up 8.5% from 2011. Renewable energy supplies around one-fifth of the final energy consumption worldwide, counting traditional biomass, large hydropower, and “new” renewables (small hydro, modern biomass, wind, solar, geothermal, and biofuels).

Traditional biomass, primarily for cooking and heating, represents about 13 percent and is growing slowly or even declining in some regions as biomass is used more efficiently or replaced by more modern energy forms. Some of the recent predictions suggest that biomass energy is likely to make up one third of the total world energy mix by 2050. Infact, biofuel provides around 3% of the world’s fuel for transport.

Biomass energy resources are readily available in rural and urban areas of all countries. Biomass-based industries can provide appreciable employment opportunities and promote biomass re-growth through sustainable land management practices. The negative aspects of traditional biomass utilization in developing countries can be mitigated by promotion of modern waste-to-energy technologies which provide solid, liquid and gaseous fuels as well as electricity. Biomass wastes encompass a wide array of materials derived from agricultural, agro-industrial, and timber residues, as well as municipal and industrial wastes.

The most common technique for producing both heat and electrical energy from biomass wastes is direct combustion. Thermal efficiencies as high as 80 – 90% can be achieved by advanced gasification technology with greatly reduced atmospheric emissions. Combined heat and power (CHP) systems, ranging from small-scale technology to large grid-connected facilities, provide significantly higher efficiencies than systems that only generate electricity. Biochemical processes, like anaerobic digestion and sanitary landfills, can also produce clean energy in the form of biogas and producer gas which can be converted to power and heat using a gas engine.

Advantages of Biomass Energy

Bioenergy systems offer significant possibilities for reducing greenhouse gas emissions due to their immense potential to replace fossil fuels in energy production. Biomass reduces emissions and enhances carbon sequestration since short-rotation crops or forests established on abandoned agricultural land accumulate carbon in the soil.

Bioenergy usually provides an irreversible mitigation effect by reducing carbon dioxide at source, but it may emit more carbon per unit of energy than fossil fuels unless biomass fuels are produced unsustainably. Biomass can play a major role in reducing the reliance on fossil fuels by making use of thermo-chemical conversion technologies. In addition, the increased utilization of biomass-based fuels will be instrumental in safeguarding the environment, generation of new job opportunities, sustainable development and health improvements in rural areas.

The development of efficient biomass handling technology, improvement of agro-forestry systems and establishment of small and large-scale biomass-based power plants can play a major role in rural development. Biomass energy could also aid in modernizing the agricultural economy.

When compared with wind and solar energy, biomass plants are able to provide crucial, reliable baseload generation. Biomass plants provide fuel diversity, which protects communities from volatile fossil fuels. Since biomass energy uses domestically-produced fuels, biomass power greatly reduces our dependence on foreign energy sources and increases national energy security.

A large amount of energy is expended in the cultivation and processing of crops like sugarcane, coconut, and rice which can met by utilizing energy-rich residues for electricity production. The integration of biomass-fueled gasifiers in coal-fired power stations would be advantageous in terms of improved flexibility in response to fluctuations in biomass availability and lower investment costs. The growth of the bioenergy industry can also be achieved by laying more stress on green power marketing.

Circular Economy: Past, Present and Future

Circular-EconomyFor a society accustomed to the achievements of a linear economy, the transition to a circular system is a hard task even to contemplate. Although the changes needed may seem daunting, it is important to remember that we have already come a long way. However, the history of the waste hierarchy has taught that political perseverance and unity of approach are essential to achieving long term visions in supply chain management.

Looking back, it is helpful to view the significance of the Lansink’s Ladder in the light of the sustainability gains it has already instigated. From the outset, the Ladder encountered criticism, in part because the intuitive preference order it expresses is not (and has never been put forward as) scientifically rigorous. Opposition came from those who feared the hierarchy would impede economic growth and clash with an increasingly consumerist society. The business community expressed concerns about regulatory burdens and the cost of implementing change.

However, such criticism was not able to shake political support, either in Holland where the Ladder was adopted in the Dutch Environmental Protection Act of 1979, or subsequently across Europe, as the Waste Hierarchy was transposed into national legislation as a result of the revised Waste Framework Directive. Prevention, reuse and recycling have become widely used words as awareness has increased that our industrial societies will eventually suffer a shortage of raw materials and energy. So, should we see the waste hierarchy as laying the first slabs of the long road to a circular economy? Or is the circular economy a radical new departure?

Positive and negative thinking

There have been two major transitionary periods in waste management: public health was the primary driver for the first, from roughly 1900 to 1960, in which waste removal was formalised as a means to avoid disease. The second gained momentum in the 1980s, when prevention, reuse and recovery came on the agenda. However, consolidation of the second transition has in turn revealed new drivers for a third. Although analysing drivers is always tricky – requiring a thorough study of causes and effects – a general indication is helpful for further discussion. Positive (+) and negative (-) drivers for a third transition may be:

(+) The development of material supply chain management through the combination of waste hierarchy thinking with cradle to cradle eco design;

(+) The need for sustainable energy solutions;

(+) Scarcity of raw materials necessary for technological innovation; and

(+) Progressive development of circular economy models, with increasing awareness of social, financial and economic barriers.

(-) Growth of the global economy, especially in China and India, and later in Africa;

(-) Continued growth in global travel;

(-) Rising energy demand, exceeding what can be produced from renewable sources and threatening further global warming;

(-) Biodiversity loss, causing a further ecological impoverishment; and

(-) Conservation of the principle of ownership, which hinders the development of the so-called ‘lease society’. 

A clear steer

As the direction, scale and weight of these drivers are difficult to assess, it’s necessary to steer developments at all levels to a sustainable solution. The second transition taught that governmental control appears indispensable, and that regulation stimulates innovation so long as adequate space is left for industry and producers to develop their own means of satisfying their legislated responsibilities.

The European Waste Framework Directive has been one such stimulatory piece of legislation. Unfortunately, the EC has decided to withdraw its Circular Economy package, which would otherwise now be on track to deliver the additional innovation needed to achieve its goals – including higher recycling targets. Messrs. Juncker and Timmermans must now either bring forward the more ambitious legislation they have hinted at, or explain why they have abandoned the serious proposals of their predecessors.

Perhaps the major differences between Member States and other countries may require a preliminary two-speed policy, but any differences in timetable between Western Europe and other countries should not stand in the way of innovation, and differences of opinion between the European Parliament and the Commission must be removed for Europe to remain credible.

Governmental control requires clear rules and definitions, and for legislative terminology to be commensurate with policy objectives. One failing in this area is the use of the generic term ‘recovery’ to cover product reuse, recycling and incineration with energy recovery, which confuses the hierarchy’s preference order. The granting of R1 status to waste incineration plants, although understandable in terms of energy diversification, turns waste processors into energy producers benefiting from full ovens. Feeding these plants reduces the scope for recycling and increases CO2emissions. When relatively inefficient incinerators still appear to qualify for R1 status, it offers confusing policy signals for governments, investors and waste services providers alike.

The key role for government also is to set clear targets and create the space for producers and consumers to generate workable solutions. The waste hierarchy’s preference order is best served by transparent minimum standards, grouped around product reuse, material recycling or disposal by combustion. For designated product or material categories, multiple minimum standards are possible following preparation of the initial waste streams, which can be tightened as technological developments allow.

Where the rubber meets the road

As waste markets increase in scale, are liberalised, and come under international regulation, individual governmental control is diminished. These factors are currently playing out in the erratic prices of secondary commodities and the development of excess incinerator capacity in some nations that has brought about a rise in RDF exports from the UK and Italy. Governments, however, may make a virtue of the necessity of avoiding the minutiae: ecological policy is by definition long-term and requires a stable line; day to day control is an impossible and undesirable task.

The road to the third transition – towards a circular economy – requires a new mind-set from government that acknowledges and empowers individuals. Not only must we approach the issue from the bottom-up, but also from the side and above. Consumer behaviour must be steered by both ‘soft’ and ‘hard’ controls: through information and communication, because of the importance of psychological factors; but also through financial instruments, because both consumers and industry are clearly responsive to such stimuli.

Where we see opposition to deposit return schemes, it comes not from consumers but from industry, which fears the administrative and logistical burden. The business community must be convinced of the economic opportunities of innovation. Material supply chain management is a challenge for designers and producers, who nevertheless appreciate the benefits of product lifetime extensions and reuse. When attention to environmental risks seems to lapse – for example due to financial pressures or market failures – then politics must intervene.

Government and industry should therefore get a better grip on the under-developed positive drivers of the third transition, such as eco design, secondary materials policy, sustainable energy policy, and research and development in the areas of bio, info, and nanotechnologies. 

Third time’s the charm

Good supply chain management stands or falls with the way in which producers and consumers contribute to the policies supported by government and society. In order that producers and consumers make good on this responsibility, government must first support their environmental awareness.

The interpretation of municipal duty of care determines options for waste collection, disposal and processing. Also essential is the way in which producer responsibility takes shape, and the government must provide a clear separation of private and public duties. Businesses may be liable for the negative aspects of unbridled growth and irresponsible actions. It is also important for optimal interaction with the European legislators: a worthy entry in Brussels is valuable because of the international aspects of the third transition. Finally, supply chain management involves the use of various policy tools, including:

  • Rewarding good behaviour
  • Sharpening minimum standards
  • Development and certification of CO2 tools
  • Formulation and implementation of end-of-waste criteria
  • Remediation of waste incineration with low energy efficiency
  • Restoration or maintenance of a fair landfill tax
  • Application of the combustion load set at zero

‘Seeing is believing’ is the motto of followers of the Apostle Thomas, who is chiefly remembered for his propensity for doubt. The call for visible examples is heard ever louder as more questions are raised around the feasibility of product renewal and the possibilities of a circular economy.

Ultimately, the third transition is inevitable as we face a future of scarcity of raw materials and energy. However, while the direction is clear, the tools to be employed and the speed of change remain uncertain. Disasters are unnecessary to allow the realisation of vital changes; huge leaps forward are possible so long as government – both national and international – and society rigorously follow the preference order of the waste hierarchy. Climbing Lansink’s Ladder remains vital to attaining a perspective from which we might judge the ways in which to make a circle of our linear economy.

Note: The article is being republished with the permission of our collaborative partner Isonomia. The original article can be found at this link.