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Is Your Prescription Damaging The Planet?

What do you look for in a good pharmacy? For many people, qualities like reliability, convenience and a swift service come to mind first – and let’s not forget helpful members of staff. Basically, anything that makes your prescription experience run smoothly. But we’re only thinking about the customer’s side of the counter. We don’t often consider the environmental policies of the pharmacy, but we should.

Nowadays we’re encouraged more than ever to become conscious consumers, and with good reason. Making eco-aware consumer choices is a way for us to take control of our carbon footprint and contribute less waste. It’s a small difference, but it is a difference we can make, and that’s important. As we learn more about our effect on the environment, we make an effort to take the greener options when we can – whether that be buying local, avoiding plastics or trying out more plant based diets. But when it comes to healthcare, we often don’t consider the eco-friendly options. Maybe it’s time to ask the question – just how green is your pharmacy?

Healthcare’s Carbon Footprint

When it comes to healthcare, our first priority is getting treatment. As it should be! After all, it’s one thing to make small sacrifices in our daily lives for the sake of the environment, but healthcare is not something you can do without. So you can be forgiven for not analysing the carbon footprint of your doctor’s office, local pharmacy or city hospital, as it’s simply not our immediate concern when receiving treatment. That being said, it’s important to look at the bigger picture and realise that healthcare can be a major contributor to greenhouse gas emissions.

The NHS alone contributes around 5.4% of the UK’s greenhouse gases [1]. On a global scale, the healthcare sector accounts for 4% of total annual emissions [2]. That’s a big impact. Some serious progress has been made over time through policy changes, but it’s still an ongoing issue, and it demonstrates that we should be eco-conscious when it comes to our healthcare.

You may be thinking: How much choice do I actually have as a patient, and does it make any difference? What role do pharmacies play in all this? These are valid concerns, so let’s take a look at pharmacy waste.

Everyday Prescription Waste

Any high street business produces waste as a by-product of its operation, and pharmacies are no different. Where pharmacies can be particularly egregious is in the form of paper waste produced by prescriptions. Think about it: community pharmacies nationwide will prescribe over a billion items annually (that’s an average of 2.7 million prescriptions daily) [3]. That’s a staggering amount of prescription slips being printed. To put things in perspective, our calculations show that 1.04 billion prescriptions equate to around 47,000 tonnes of greenhouse gas emissions. As long as the healthcare industry relies on outdated prescription systems that continually print paper every day, pharmacies are going to be contributing a lot of CO to our atmosphere.

What About The Electronic Prescription Service?

Thankfully, people started to realise that bags of paper waste just didn’t make sense. In addition to being bad for the environment, it’s simply an inefficient use of resources. So as time went on, pharmacies gradually made the switch to digital via the Electronic Prescription Service (EMS) [4]. Problem solved…right? In truth, the Electronic Prescription Service is far from perfect.

First of all, the key word here is that EMS will ‘eventually’ take over paper prescriptions, but many local pharmacies are still using outdated systems today. This incomplete adoption of the EMS means that in some cases the service has actually INCREASED paper waste (yes, really)! EPS tokens are still printed in community pharmacies, often in duplicates to generate patient repeat prescription lists.

In the future, community pharmacies should be a lot less wasteful once the flaws of the system have been properly addressed. But why wait until then when there are truly paperless, carbon neutral alternatives available NOW?

Our Paperless Online Prescription

Here at e-Surgery, our prescription process doesn’t use any paper at all. It’s a fully digital system with no print outs needed. It’s not just eco-friendly, it’s efficient. We’re not wasting our time sorting out bundles of waste everyday. We just get to focus on doing our job in a clean, green workspace. It’s better for us, which means it’s better for you, and better for our planet. Going paperless really is that good.

It’s just one of the many steps we’ve taken when it comes to digitising the healthcare experience, which we truly believe is the future of healthcare. We’re the most eco-friendly pharmacy we know. Even our website servers run on 100% renewable energy.

We Don’t Use Wasteful Packaging

Our goal of minimising waste extends to our packaging policy. Whenever possible, we avoid repackaging medication. In addition, we don’t include any unnecessary frills or filler – we keep it simple, which keeps it green.
In case you were wondering, all of our packaging is fully recyclable. We use brown cardboard as it takes less processing, recyclable tissue paper as a form of damage and moisture protection, and make sure our delivery labels are recyclable too. But packaging isn’t the only thing we should be mindful of. Make sure to take any unwanted, leftover or expired medication to a local pharmacy, where it can be disposed of safely and responsibly. That also applies to inhalers, which can be fully recycled at pharmacies that have joined the Complete the Cycle scheme ⑸.


  1. The NHS Produces 5.4% Of The UK’s Greenhouse Gases | The Guardian
  2. Healthcare In World’s Largest Economies ‘Accounts For 4%’ Of Global Emissions | Carbon Brief
  3. Medicines Waste | NHS Rotherham
  4. Electronic Prescription Service | NHS Digital
  5. Complete the Cycle | GSK UK

Further Reading

  1. 50 Ideas For Shrinking Your Carbon Footprint | Climate Care
  2. How Big Is Your Environmental Footprint? | WWF
  3. Carbon Dioxide Levels Are At A Record High. Here’s What You Need To Know | National Geographic