My health or the planet’s?

The other day I had an e-mail from Patricia with the possible text for a blog post. Here is what she wrote:

IMGP6953I was tempted to call this Scrap Unhappy, but will refrain and remain positive, but I am concerned with medical waste.  Not on the huge hospital scale, but my own small domestic waste from the first aid box and prescription and non-prescription drugs.

I just finished a bottle of medicine and was rinsing out the bottle recalling a time when medicine bottles were returned to the chemist for re-use. Now that is impossible, but I can recycle both the glass bottle and the hard plastic top in my council doorstep collection. But that’s about all that is recyclable in my home pharmacy.

At the beginning of this year I went through my first aid box, not a job I’d done before and I’m ashamed at how many out of date items I found and more to the point of this blog, disturbed by how much plastic was in there. Long gone are the days when first aid meant linen bandages and cotton wool, lint and little gold safety pins. Tubes of antiseptic and cream for insect bites etc all needed replacing and although I couldn’t stick to my preferred brands, which all came in plastic,  I was happy to find how many products were available in metal tubes. I found Weleda especially helpful and their staff were as knowledgeable about their packaging as their products. Their package arrived in paper, card and potato starch based pellets that would bring a smile to the sternest Snail.  But plasters – what are they? Micropore? What is it? How are they to be disposed? When they have been used on wounds, I feel the only way that meets both health and safety demands of disposal is burning, but otherwise? And what of those bits that come off plasters?  Has anyone moved away from these plasters in pursuit of something greener?

However the real trouble started when I looked at my prescription and non-prescription tablets. They all come in blister packs. As far as I can tell none of them, not even a simple aspirin or antacid is available in a bottle. And what are blister packs? It seems as if there is no requirement for medicines to contain information about safe disposal beyond the safe disposal i.e. return to the pharmacy, of the drugs themselves. I once gardened for a large community and a member of that community took her daily walk after lunch around the grounds. She took with her, her daily pill and one could follow her progress by the tiny metallic plastic top that had come from the blister packed pill. Now I guess we could make our way across the planet following this and other home medicine spoor.

Has anyone else tried to ‘green up’ their home remedies? I’d love to hear from you or can you please point me to others addressing this.

What an interesting post I thought… I’ll put that up later in the week… and then I got toothache…

… not just an irritating ache, but real, powerful pain that had me scurrying for strong painkillers and a hot water bottle and then, as quickly as possible, to the dentist, followed by the pharmacy, where Patricia’s words came back to me.

IMGP6956So, here I am this evening, still with my hot water bottle, but also with various types of medication all in an abundance of packaging. Turns out that I most likely have a gum infection, so there are antibiotics (blister pack/cardboard box), then I needed strong painkillers (blister pack/cardboard box) and interdental brushes (plastic and cardboard packaging plus their plastic handles and bristles) and antiseptic mouthwash (plastic bottle).

Well, there go my environmental credentials as soon as I have a medical problem. Perhaps there are alternatives to some of these products that have less or more environmentally friendly packaging, but when you are literally crying with pain, it’s not the time to seek them out.

And I’m not the only one in our household with dental issues. Daisy has rather poor teeth. I do clean them with a brush (plastic) and doggy toothpaste (hurrah! metal tube), but she also has a tooth cleaning chew every day and these come in a box with several plastic packs each containing a few chews. However, I have recently found an alternative. It is possible to buy unpackaged dental health chews from our local big chain pet shop, who simply put an elastic band around them. Next time I buy some, I will take my own container so they can go straight in that.

I genuinely understand why it is considered best practice to put tablets into blister packs, but I can’t help feeling that if we trust our pharmacists to dispense the correct drugs, we could perhaps trust them to put those drugs in a bottle for us too. And certainly over-the-counter medication could easily be sold in sealed, returnable bottles, as used to be the case.

Anyway, I’m now going to take some of those strong painkillers, so you may not get any sense out of me for a while…

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23 Comments

  1. I hope all the drugs and crevices do the trick. I know some people use herbal remedies but they are not really suitable for severe pain or some chronic conditions. I think blister packs are easily filled by machine whereas bottles were filled by the pharmacist from a bigger jar which meant counting them. So we ruin the planet in the service of efficiency. As usual!

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  2. Ann Owen

     /  May 22, 2019

    Ow dear, poor you, toothache is just about the worst! Hope you’re “enjoying” the painrelief! XX

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  3. Sympathy! Toothache is just horrid. Hope you make a speedy recovery.

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  4. First of all, a dose of sympathy. Poor, poor Snail, I wish you a speedy recovery. Now for the drugs. I also hate how drugs come in blisters – except for my migraine medication, which comes in a plastic bottle. That plastic bottle is now at least 3 years old, because I have become friends with the pharmacist. I wait for a time when he’s not busy, I take my clean bottle (with an ordinary, not child-proof cap, hurray!) and my prescription in, and lo and behold, he shoots the pills into that. It’s probably against the rules, because he has a slightly brisk and furtive air about him when he does it, but I’m not telling and neither is he.

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  5. Toothache! How horrible. I hope you are feeling tickety-boo now. As you say, being in pain is not the time to be investigating sustainability. I only take one daily tablet, which comes in a blister pack. There seems to be no current alternative, so maybe I have to be more vigilant in other areas.

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  6. I feel your pain – or have done- I had a dental infection which caused the whole side of my face to be affected. The pain was hideous – worse than childbirth (my measure for pain) – and, to be honest, I would have taken anything in whatever container it came in just to be rid of it. I hope you are feeling better now and try not to feel guilty about the means you had to use because you do so much on a personal level already that nobody would begrudge you pain relief that mostly comes in packaging beyond your control.

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  7. Good point, we have mountains of ridiculous medical packaging for all Mr E’s pills and potions.

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  8. I hope you feel better soon! Toothache is horrible, nobody could blame you for grabbing anything that helps, whatever the packaging it comes in

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  9. Patricia Collins

     /  May 23, 2019

    If blister packs are necessary, couldn;t they be made of tin foil or seomthing else we can recycle?

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  10. Poor you get well soon.
    Not only do we use masses of plastic to dispense our drugs these days, but any unused drugs are just disposed of too. Even if they are only recently dispensed and the recipient is sadly not longer with us, so had no time to use or open their medications. The repeat repeat prescriptions my mother-in-law had due to being in and out of hospital in her final months filled several recyling bags but could not be redispensed, even though they were in the sealled boxes or the paper dispensing bag! Costs on all fronts.

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  11. Hope you feel better soon! Your post illustrates the need for a systemic change. Personal behavior is important, but sometimes we don’t have much choice when it comes to packaging.

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  12. Hello snail lady,
    Food for thought.
    I picked up my prescription from Boots yesterday and it was in a large sealed plastic bag. Gone are the little paper bags. Who is being paid to make that decision? And have they not watched Blue Planet?
    It just adds to the issue of medicinal waste.
    juniperberry

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  13. You know, I once saw something that Brits think Americans are nuts for, well, for many things, but specifically because pharmacists prepare our prescriptions on an individual basis (in most cases) and put the pills in bottles (most of our over-the-counter meds also come in bottles, not blister packs). Granted the bottles are plastic and the pharmacy won’t reuse them, but the bottles work great for storing seeds or leftover art paint, and they can be recycled. Maybe we’re not so nuts…no wait, we are. Anyway, hope your toothache gets better.

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  14. Well, a gum infection, ugh. I hope things improve quickly. As for the packaging, I don’t have an answer…

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  15. Now I’ve read your post I realise tablets didn’t use to come in blister packs, did they? Yet another change which creeps up and then we’re inundated.
    Good to bring the subject up and get people thinking and talking. Eventually this may bring about a solution which keeps people safe but helps the planet, too.
    However, of all the uses of plastic, this is one I find less troublesome. If we live in a society where we don’t walk on by when a person is suffering we can’t stop treating people. So, I hope your gums are recovering now. I caused an infection in my gums once after misunderstanding my dentist’s instructions about cleaning and I’m not sure how I managed to go to work. I found oil of cloves helped somewhat as a natural alternative (numbs the gum) but in the end I did resort to codeine.

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  16. Hope you feel better soon! Toothache is terrible.I hope you make a speedy recovery.

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  17. What an interesting, thought-provoking post. As I read it I remembered that not so very long ago, when my then young son first started having chronic pain due to an arthritic condition, I used to get his medication from our local pharmacy in bottles. Yesterday I went to the same pharmacy to ask to buy some paracetamol and ibuprofen in bottles and was told that they’d tried but were unable to source any.
    I take medication every day, packed in blister packs, and despite my growing attention to cutting waste, had never thought about it until I read your post. Now I am thinking about it. Yesterday I tweeted the RPS (Royal Parmaceutical Society) asking what they’re doing to reduce plastic waste. So far no reply. But I hope that the more of us that make a noise about this, the more likely it is to change.
    Anyway, thanks again for raising this largely overlooked issue.

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  18. What an interesting, thought-provoking post. As I read it I remembered that not so very long ago, when my then young son first started having chronic pain due to an arthritic condition, I used to get his medication from our local pharmacy in bottles. Yesterday I went to the same pharmacy to ask to buy some paracetamol and ibuprofen in bottles and was told that they’d tried but were unable to source any.
    I take medication every day, packed in blister packs, and despite my growing attention to cutting waste, had never thought about it until I read your post. Now I am thinking about it. Yesterday I tweeted the RPS (Royal Parmacutical Society)

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  19. Sorry for multiple posts. Didnt realise the first one had been successful.

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  1. Patricia Collins | The Snail of Happiness

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