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Returning expired medicines has increased in Finland

Ministry of the Environment
26.8.2021 9.53 | Published in English on 26.8.2021 at 10.22
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Finns have returned more unused medicines to pharmacies and collection points. Expired and unused medicines should be taken back to the pharmacy, as they burden the environment when flushed down the drain or thrown in trash or they may end up in the wrong hands. The two-week-long Lääkkeetön Itämeri campaign (drug-free Baltic Sea) starts today, on 26 August, when we celebrate the Baltic Sea Day.

According to the report by Clear Waters from Pharmaceuticals (CWPharma) project1, there are major differences in the practices of collection and disposal of unused medicines in the Baltic Sea countries. The report says that two thirds of Finns returned unused medicines to pharmacies or collection points in 2009 and 2010. The Finnish record has been among the best when compared to the other Baltic Sea countries. The report gathered information about the ways consumers dispose of unused medicines in Finland, Lithuania, Latvia, Poland, Sweden, and Russia.

According to the latest survey2 made in Finland in 2019, about 90% of Finnish adults took their unused medicines to a pharmacy. The results show that there has been an improvement in the medicine waste disposal practices in recent years.

"Even though Finland is a trendsetter in the Baltic Sea region in the disposal of household pharmaceutical waste, we still have room for improvement. Medicines thrown in trash or flushed down can end up in the soil, inland waterways, and the Baltic Sea, increasing their pharmaceutical burden. Numerous studies have also shown that once in the waterways, the medicines have an impact of the behaviour, reproduction, and living conditions of different animal species. When medicines are disposed of incorrectly, this can also increase the number of antibiotic resistant bacteria,” says Development Manager Taina Nystén from Finnish Environment Institute.

Over 800 pharmacies across Finland accept unused medicines

The drug-free Baltic Sea campaign takes place now for the fourth time to remind people of how easy it is to return expired and unused medicines: there are over 800 pharmacies in Finland which accept unused medicines.

"This year, we want to encourage everyone to make cleaning the medicine cabinet a routine and to remind everyone that it is easy and free to return medicines to pharmacies in Finland. We are concerned about the Baltic Sea and other waterways, and our goal is, of course, that in the near future, 100% of Finns would return their expired and unused medicines to pharmacies," says Brand Manager Elina Aaltonen from the Association of Finnish Pharmacies.

The drug-free Baltic Sea is an annual campaign arranged by several organizations. The campaign is implemented by communications agency Cocomms, and this year, it has been made possible by the Association of Finnish Pharmacies, GSK, John Nurminen Foundation, Pharma Industry Finland, Mehiläinen, Oriola, Orion, Ministry of Social Affairs and Health, Tamro, Yliopiston Apteekki, and Ministry of the Environment. Finnish Environment Institute is the campaign's expert and John Nurminen Foundation its patron.

Check list: How to dispose of your medicines correctly

1. Which medicines should be returned to a pharmacy?

Return medicated plasters, solid and liquid medicines, inhalers, tablets, and capsules as well as tubes which still contain medicine.

2. How to return the medicines?

Take the tablets and capsules out of their packaging and put them in a see-through bag. Put creams, aerosols, and inhalers in a bag without their prescription label. Leave liquid medicines in their original container and put them in a separate bag. Fold medicated plasters so that their adhesive surfaces are against each other before putting them in a bag. Remove the prescription label from plastic and cardboard packages and take them to their own recycling collection points. Return all plastic bags to a pharmacy.

Always return the following in a bag of their own:

  • medicines containing iodine
  • cytotoxins in their original packaging, handed to a member of pharmacy personnel
  • syringes and needles in an impenetrable container, such as a bottle or jar. Ask your pharmacy how to dispose of insulin needles in your area.
  • mercury thermometers

3. What does not need to be returned?

For example, base creams, dietary supplements, or natural products can be disposed of in mixed waste.