Responsibility for entire life cycle of a medicine

"As consumers of medicines, each one of us can also influence the environmental impact with our own daily choices", reminds

The first time I heard about and understood what was happening to the Baltic Sea was in the 1980s at the Tvärminne Zoological Station when I was still a student. At that time, though biodiversity loss and eutrophication of the Baltic Sea were discussed frequently in expert circles these subjects received little publicity. These issues affect the lives of every one of us, and now that we are all aware of their importance, we can all do our bit.

The Baltic Sea is not doing too well, and I am sure that many of you saw this with your own eyes again this summer. In order for our beloved sea to get better, we need both political decisions and concrete measures that we can all influence. For example, lots of Orionees collected rubbish from Baltic Sea beaches at team events arranged this summer as part of the #OURSEA campaign. So far, we have collected over 1000 buckets of rubbish from the beaches – a big thank you to all of you who took part.

Another way to help improve the situation in the Baltic Sea would be, for example, by further reducing emissions arising from the production, packaging, transport and disposal of medicines.

Drug residue emissions have been significantly reduced

Liisa Hurme
Senior Vice President

My employer, Orion, is an unusual operator in the pharmaceutical industry in that all its plants and most of its R&D functions are located in Finland. This means that we are able to influence many parts of the production chain and life cycle of medicines to help restore the Baltic Sea and the environment to a more vibrant state.

We source the raw materials used in production from reliable suppliers and provide them with training in sustainability issues. We also carry out sustainability audits on our suppliers to ensure that they follow our jointly agreed procedures.

Smooth production processes for medicines and active pharmaceutical ingredients are cost- and energy-efficient and good for the environment. The less resource and material waste we produce, the lower our impact on the environment and the less waste for us to transport.

In pharmaceutical production, the front end of the process has the greatest impact on the environment. The production of active pharmaceutical ingredients is a chemical process industry which uses a lot of solvents, chemicals and water. One of Orion's key targets is to minimise hazardous waste.

Over the last ten years or so, we have been able to significantly reduce emissions of drug residues, for example by improving the management of wastewater arising from our production. The wastewater that is unsuitable for a biological treatment process is directed into special tanks at the pharmaceutical plant and taken to a hazardous waste treatment facility. The excess water is evaporated, and the residue is incinerated with other hazardous waste to completely destroy the residues.

Packaging is also a significant part of the impact chain. The packaging of medicines is subject to a many restrictions and official regulations. We do everything we can, taking these restrictions into consideration, to minimise the environmental impact of the packaging we use. In the exterior packaging, we mainly use packaging materials made from Finnish wood. We use natural materials for the colouring agents.

In the packaging design, we take into account the shelf-life of medicines and packaging sizes, in particular, to prevent medicines from being disposed of unnecessarily. If it is necessary to dispose of medicines, the packages always contain instructions for their correct disposal. Good practical instructions can also be found on the Orion website, for example.

Medicine end-users also have power and responsibility

The various stages of medicine production, even when combined, only make up part of the entire chain of responsible operations. The greatest environmental challenges come at the end of the life cycle of medicines.

It is estimated that 88% of the active pharmaceutical ingredients that end up in the environment originate from the use of medicines and 10% are from their incorrect disposal. Production processes are responsible for just 2%. This is why it is necessary to focus on the entire life cycle of medicines to ensure the sustainability of operations. Each party has an important role to play and we want to cooperate with everyone.

As consumers of medicines, each one of us can also influence the environmental impact with our own daily choices – by not stockpiling large quantities of medicines, by buying medicine packages of an appropriate size and by always completing a course of medication prescribed by a doctor. And most importantly: by disposing of expired or unrequired medicines properly. Instead of throwing them into mixed waste or down the drain, it is important to always take them back to the pharmacy.

Liisa Hurme
Senior Vice President