Health and Environmental Sustainability

Health and the environment are intimately intertwined. A clean and healthy environment is essential to healthy societies. AESGP is committed to working with all partners along the value chain of medicines and the EU institutions to reduce impacts on the environment while responding to people’s health needs and ensuring access to quality self-care products.

Health and Environmental Sustainability

What is the issue with pharmaceuticals and the environment?

The improvement of medicine coupled with long periods of peace in Europe has allowed people to live longer, healthier and more productive lives. The increasing demand and use of medicinal products come as a natural consequence of people wishing to take care of their health and well-being. One of the unintended but inevitable results of this evolution is that trace amounts of active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) can find their way into the environment. When entering the environment, some of these substances can impact aquatic life or be a source of antimicrobial resistance

The concentration of pharmaceutical residues in the environment, along with other chemical pollutants, is in direct correlation with the development of our modern urban life. The population’s concentration in cities (due to job opportunities, more varied facilities or else) has tended to evolve more quickly than services infrastructure (wastewater treatment, public transport, etc). However, advances in environmental science and detection techniques make it now possible to better evaluate and resolve potential risks for the environment posed by our modern way of living.

 

Overall, there are three main pathways by which pharmaceuticals can reach the environment:

  • In Europe, due to emission regulations, only trace levels can be attributed to waste from production sites. Also, heavy sanctions exist for spills with environmental consequences.
  • A smaller fraction comes from expired or unused medicines that are not correctly disposed of by general citizens.
  • The largest part is the result of normal medicine use for human health, with individual metabolism and excretion into wastewater treatment systems. The exact percentage varies depending on the characteristics of the active substance, geography, season and wastewater treatments in place.

Dealing with this issue requires a balanced approach where everyone has a role to play. Medicines play a critical role in protecting and promoting individual and public health. Debates on the topic must not overlook the value medicines bring to people and society. In order to meaningfully increase knowledge and understanding on how to proactively address any potential risks imposed by the presence of pharmaceuticals in the environment, it is important to work collaboratively within the industry and with other relevant stakeholders.

Our commitment to protecting the environment

Minimising the impact of self-care products on the environment, while safeguarding access to effective treatment and well-being options for people across Europe, has been a critical issue for AESGP and its members for a long time.  

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