A drug’s life cycle must not end in the Baltic Sea

While Orion treats its industrial wastewater in a highly developed process, it also invests in environmental responsibility throughout the products’ life cycle in many other ways. The goal is to keep the Baltic Sea cleaner than it is now and nature free from pharmaceutical residues.

With determination, Orion has now worked for about a decade for the reduction of pharmaceutical residue emissions in water systems and nature in general. Based on a separate drainage system, the process has significantly helped reduce emissions.

“The development of wastewater management was triggered by our corporate responsibility. We wanted to raise the bar higher than was required at the time - we simply decided that these residues should not end up in nature,” says Noora Paronen, Head of Corporate Responsibility.

Orion is working harder and harder to minimise the amount of pharmaceutical residue in nature throughout the products’ life cycle.

“Our top priority is to provide patients with the right medicines in the right way when they need them. But we also want to take environmental responsibility for our products throughout the supply chain,” says Senior Vice President Liisa Hurme from Supply Chain.

Environmental risk assessment and sustainable raw materials

Life cycle thinking starts at product development. Orion conducts an environmental risk assessment on all new products to identify any risks that the substances included in the products could cause if released in nature and ways to prevent these risks in its own operations.

Green chemistry is the target in the manufacturing of active pharmaceutical ingredients, for example. Various stages of work have been shortened and lightened, and the amount of chemicals used has been reduced.

Raw materials are only purchased from responsible suppliers with strict requirements set by Orion.

“We also ensure that our suppliers meet these requirements by conducting risk-based sustainability audits and training suppliers in sustainability,” Paronen says.

In pharmaceutical production, efficiency and sustainability often pull together. For example, when machines are washed more efficiently, fewer washes are needed and water and detergent saved.

“Streamlining and efficiency are our goals in the entire production. The less resource waste and material losses is generated, the less burden we have on the environment and the need to transport waste,” Hurme says.

It’s all in the package

The environmental impact of a product depends a lot on its package. For exterior packaging, Orion’s own factories mainly use materials made from Finnish wood. The colouring agents used are from natural origin.

Those working with package design consider package sizes and the shelf life of products to reduce the amount of unused or expired medicines. The packages also contain instructions for the proper disposal of medicines.

“Our sales and other personnel advice health care professionals to ensure the correct use of the products by, for example, starting with smaller packages. So that people wouldn’t buy big amounts just in case,” Hurme says.

Majority of pharmaceutical residues in nature results from the general use of pharmaceutical products: from the skin with shower water and from the body with urine. Advice in correct use is therefore very important - small things can make a big difference.

Take your expired products to the pharmacy

Drugs not washed away with shower water or urine will usually end up being disposed of as expired or left-over products. Improper disposal will create a major environmental load, which is why Orion also wants to have an impact on this phase of a product’s life cycle. Orion tries to increase consumer awareness on the matter in a number of ways.

“The main thing is to return unused products to any pharmacy. Pharmacies will take care of the proper disposal. You must never throw any medicines down the drain or in mixed waste,” Paronen says.

In consumer awareness, Orion is cooperating with pharmacies and other health care professionals. In addition, Orion is the main partner of John Nurminen Foundation’s Clean Baltic Sea projects in 2018-2019.

In spring 2019, Orion is participating in the Residue-free Baltic Sea campaign. The campaign’s message is simple enough: “Return your out-of-date medicines to the pharmacy. Do not dispose of them down the drain or in the bin.”


Pharmaceutical residues in the environment

It is estimated that 88% of pharmaceutical residues result from the general use of pharmaceutical products.

10% of pharmaceutical residues result from the inproper disposal of expired and left-over products.

2% of pharmaceutical residues result from production.

Separate drainage systems to control pharmaceutical residues

Orion has succeeded in reducing its pharmaceutical residues from production significantly by developing its wastewater management.

The process is currently based on a separate drainage system. In the system, wastewater containing compounds unsuitable for a biological treatment plant or otherwise environmentally hazardous is separated from the rest of the wastewater.

The high-risk wastewater is directed into special tanks and treated as appropriate. The extra water is evaporated as energy-efficiently as possible, and the residues are incinerated in the same furnace as other hazardous waste. Just ashes will remain.


Text: Diana Törnroos

30 April, 2019