[Pharmwaste] Following up on Trash Disposal study discussion

Fredrick L. Miller millerfl at tricity.wsu.edu
Fri May 18 17:14:07 EDT 2012

"take-back programs in which the bill goes to the pharmaceutical manufacturers is the way to go  (for public health, environmental health, and public safety reasons)."

I disagree.  The place where we have the chance to most immediately influence behavior is on the supply end.  So long as manufacturers and distributors can maintain the status quo of oversupplying the market and passing the costs along to insurers and consumers there's no pressure to change.  If manufacturers are to be responsible they should be forced to fund community waste management programs where individual drug costs can't be traced back and where they have no control over costs save by limiting volume distributed.

Consumers aren't going to change their behavior without some incentive.  Unless something is dead easy (throwing meds out with other garbage) or there's money to be made you're trying to push a wet noodle up a steep hill expecting people to return their meds.  If such stuff worked we wouldn't have such crummy recycling rates, disposable grocery bags, and single use batteries.  Everyday consumers don't go out of their way to do things for the good of society.  Sorry, but that's a fact.  Another elephant in the room is the disappearance of the brick and mortar pharmacy.  Rail against it all you will but mail order and on-line is an ever growing force.  Many people have no pharmacist to take their meds back to.  They're not going to remember to take their meds to a place they didn't get them in the first place.

Humans are funny animals.  They're basically lazy and self-interested but they also seem to have the attention span of a goldfish when it comes to thinking about abstract things like future harm.  Ever have a conversation with someone outside the academic/healthcare world about climate change?


-----Original Message-----
From: pharmwaste-bounces at lists.dep.state.fl.us [mailto:pharmwaste-bounces at lists.dep.state.fl.us] On Behalf Of David Stitzhal
Sent: Friday, May 18, 2012 1:08 PM
To: pharmwaste at lists.dep.state.fl.us
Subject: [Pharmwaste] Following up on Trash Disposal study discussion

Great discussion re. the recent Michigan report on trash disposal.

I want to also emphasize the importance of keeping our eyes on the producer responsibility aspect of this public health challenge. 
Certainly if the take-back with incineration approach could be definitively shown to be considerably more environmentally harmful than trash disposal, then we would want to consider the landfill-only approach.  However, given the limits of life-cycle assessment, that is unlikely to be the case.  (And we still need to answer important questions about this study, such as those raised already on this forum re. number of trips, trip-chaining, etc.).

But the point I want to raise has to do with who should be paying for whatever management approach we take.  The world, and slowly the US, is moving toward a producer responsibility approach for financing and managing our daily discards.  The cost of end-of-life impacts should be placed in the producer-consumer relationship, not in the govt.- taxpayer relationship.

So, with overall environmental impact being equal  between landfilling and take-back  -- and I suspect that even if the MI study proves to be robust, landfilling won't come out way ahead of take-back and incineration -- take-back programs in which the bill goes to the pharmaceutical manufacturers is the way to go  (for public health, environmental health, and public safety reasons).

However, even if we do end up with an all-landfilling solution, we still need to find a way to shift the costs of that approach to the producers.  What does it cost to have a modern landfill that captures pharmaceuticals (some of which are RCRA listed hazardous waste)? 
What does it cost to capture leachate and send it to sewage treatment? What does it cost to capture meds at sewage treatment plants?  What does it cost to have inter-sex fish due to the meds we don't capture in treatment? What does it cost when we send bio-active drug constituents in the sewage sludge to be land-applied on our food crops?  What does it cost to research whether those crops deliver meds to our bodies?  Perhaps those costs should be borne by producers as well before they can bring product to market.

Some ruminations.


David Stitzhal, MRP
Full Circle Environmental, Inc.
3111 37th Place South
Seattle, WA 98144
206-723-0528 phone
206-723-2452 fax
stitzhal at fullcircleenvironmental.com
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