Although it is estimated that the drugs sector represents less than 1.0% of the municipal solid waste produced in Portugal, the existence of a collection system of empty packaging and unused medication proves to be of great importance.
In 1999, aware of this situation, the pharmaceutical industry, through its representative association, created VALORMED, which was immediately joined by two other associations (pharmacies and distributors), implementing this way an autonomous system for the sector of medicines. Thus, what might be called the "life cycle of drugs" was closed; which begins with the process of R&D and comes to an end with the environmental treatment of waste produced.
In fact, the specificity of the pharmaceutical products requires the existence of a process of secure collecting and therefore the project was justified in terms of public and environmental health. Thanks to that selective collection, VALORMED also began to contribute to the rational use of medication preventing the products that were prescribed for a particular treatment from being later without the necessary medical and sanitary control.
VALORMED is a limited company, whose purpose corresponds and expressly refers to the legislation in force, particularly in the management of packaging waste.
Its founding partners represent the key institutions of economic operators that constitute the "chain of the drug", with a capital with a "tripartite" structure that reflects its three main sub-sectors: industry, distribution, pharmacy.
The sectors of production, packaging and import of drugs are represented by APIFARMA - Portuguese Association of Pharmaceutical Industries which owns a third of the capital of VALORMED.
The Pharmaceutical Industry, subject to strong regulation and accustomed to practices and procedures that are characterized by rigor, accumulates all the experience in the production, packing and packaging of drugs, being able to specify with high degree of accuracy, all products and materials it uses and launches on the market. Its direct participation in VALORMED ensures:
- High adherence to the integrated system of packaging waste and medications (SIGREM), with the corresponding proximity of packaging put on the market and packaging declared to VALORMED;
- Observance of waste management with levels of rigor and compliance similar to those required and observed in the production and packaging of medicines;
- Adequate funding of SIGREM.
Pharmaceutical packagers pay a financial contribution to VALORMED (called VCR) for the transfer of their responsibility in the management of packaging waste drugs, becoming therefore the main funders of the SIGREM system. This mechanism is expressed in Order No. 29-B/98, it fits into the Legal Framework of Waste (Decree Law176/2008) and PERSU, applying the principle of the payer polluter or Extended Producer Responsibility.
The determination of VCR (responsibility compensation value, which is basically an ecotax) obeys the financing needs of SIGREM, and is for each packaging/product placed on the market.
The payment can be made in a single annual installment or in two six-monthly installments based on the number of packaging put on the market in the previous year. Regardless of the year of membership, the adherent company shall ensure the payment of VCR to the corresponding amounts released to the market in the last two years, prior de accession.
The procedures for establishing, proof and payment of VCR are regulated in the Transfer Agreements of Responsibility made between VALORMED and adherent companies. The income from VCR is intended to bear the costs of SIGREM, which are distributed by the following "large items":
- Costs of waste management;
- Communication costs;
- Costs of research and development;
- Operating costs.
The subsector of Wholesale Distribution ensures the logistic “interface" between the production and pharmacies, and in the capital of VALORMED is represented by Groquifar - Wholesalers Association of Chemical and Pharmaceutical Products. It holds one-third global share, identical to the other subsectors.
The wholesale distributors, who receive a value of counterpart on each container carried, ensure the operational logistics of collection from pharmacies or parapharmacies, taking advantage of circuits drug distribution in an integrated and optimized form (synergies). They are recognized experts in logistics (transport, storage, supply, data processing, etc.), so its direct participation in the management of SIGREM constitutes a guarantee of performance of the collection and transport circuits without loss, which involves:
- The waste collection system door-to-door and without "exposing" any waste on public roads;
- The supply of containers and other materials necessary for the collection;
- On time collection of waste received , avoiding excessive accumulation in pharmacies and parapharmacies;
- The transport and intermediate storage in secure conditions and control identical to those observed for packaged drugs but in conditions of total isolation from other waste materials.
On average, each pharmacy or parapaharmacy could be many times a day for drug delivery, an indicator that makes pharmaceutical distribution one of the best examples of the logistic efficiency. SIGREM uses thus "reverse logistics" to ensure the collection of post-consumer waste.
The subsector of retail distribution ensures dispensing medications to the public, which pharmacies are represented by ANF - National Pharmacy Association and, like the other 2 subsectors, holds a third of the capital of VALORMED.
Pharmacies and parapharmacies that carry this service without any financial contribution, assume the responsibility for the reception of waste packaging of medicines on their own premises as well as the information to citizens. This dual service is the most visible "face" of SIGREM to the public and is a guarantee of population and territorial “coverage" indispensable for achieving its objectives. The level of rigor of the procedures for the reception of waste is equivalent to the recognized level of rigor of the procedures for dispensing medications to the public, ensuring yet:
- The reception and storage of waste collected in fully safe conditions in containers VALORMED unequivocally identified;
- The total "isolation" of packaging waste and unused medications, preventing any contamination or improper access to waste collected.
After acquisition and having been followed the instructions of the physician or pharmacist on the use of a particular drug, citizens should go back to the pharmacy or parapharmacy and make the delivery of the empty packaging acquired and all the materials that originally were part of it, even containing remains of medications. Thus we speak of the carton, the blisters, spoons, lids, cups, vials, bottles, applicators, information leaflets, etc., being totally prohibited (though not always respected), the deposition of sharps, such as syringes or needles, surgical instruments, electrical or electronic equipment, thermometers and radiographs, due to the danger that some of them represent for those who participate in the process of handling containers and sorting of waste collected.
The success of VALORMED is estimated by the participation of almost all pharmacies that fully cover the national territory (98%) and a significant number of parapharmacies distributed along all the country.
It should be noted that since it was founded in 1999, VALORMED has been collecting ever-increasing quantities of this waste stream, which therefore enables proper environmental treatment. This demonstrates the ability of VALORMED to involve the pharmaceutical professionals in waste collection and to develop their environmental training.
By 2008 the waste was sent for incineration in full. Since then, contrary to what many citizens still continue to think, all the material that is collected is, after intermediate storage in distributors with the aim of enabling a transfer amount, sent to the Sorting Center of VALORMED located in Barreiro, under an outsourcing contract established with a major operator of waste management: Ambimed (member of Stericycle Group). There, the waste is separated and classified, so that it can, later, be forwarded to recycling systems and / or proper treatment for energy recovery.
Thus, the contribution of VALORMED for the environment has been strengthened in recent years, especially with the use of the carpet for screening waste collected within SIGREM:
- Hundreds of tons of waste are valued;
- Energy recovery of separated waste unsuitable for recycling, avoiding their disposal in landfill;
- Significant reduction in contamination of landfills with waste contaminated with drug packaging.
The usual procedures of "operational communication" between the three links in the "medicines chain" are replicated to the logistics of waste. Thus, VALORMED ensures:
- The definition of technical standards and procedures for the collection and transportation;
- The supervision, control and coordination of the operations that are described in the assigned business license;
- Establishment of statistical information;
The contracting process required for subsequent sending of waste collected and isolated in "interim storage", to their final destinations.
VALORMED manages an innovative system of waste management in Europe with high success rates, and relatively pioneering the integration of packaging of veterinary medicinal products. Since the publication of Directive 2004/27/EC Member States should be linked to the establishment of collection systems and recovery of packaging waste medicines; beyond VALORMED, little known are other models or companies managing packaging waste medicines at an European level (highlight SIGRE in Spain with which we maintain regular contacts and institutional relations).
The effort and commitment shown in the collection of packaging waste and discarded drugs result from the joint that VALORMED promotes among its various partners. The partnerships between all stakeholders in the drug circuit allowed the optimization of the means employed and the implementation of common solutions accepted by all, showing a sectorial solidarity with environmental and social objectives in view, and not merely economic.
The increasing population compliance to the system, separating and delivering larger quantities of waste, year after year, shows the environmental and social value of VALORMED, contributing actively to the reduction of the amount of unused medications that many people store at home in their "home pharmacies." Consequently, the contribution results into decreased risk of accidents and poisoning by ingestion of drugs, inadequate self-medication, and improvement of public health through preventive measures.
The awareness of the population, through education, has been performed by direct actions of information in the media, including television and radio, and through campaigns that absorb significant annual financial resources. In the last decade around seven million euros were invested in the development and implementation of projects of good practices related to the proper destination for packaging waste and unused medications.
In what concerns packaging waste, the mission of VALORMED unfolds into several chapters:
- Developing communication campaigns to inform people to appropriate environmental behavior, in particular the treatment of packaging and unused medications;
- Increasing levels of medicines packaging waste collection medicines, seeking to achieve the objectives expressed in the license;
- Informing and supporting all those involved in the drug sector to fulfill legal obligations regarding the proper management of waste they produce;
- Adopting appropriate methods of treatment of the waste collected;
- Involving and informing all employees and operators in the cycle of the collection and treatment of waste, aiming to pursue the principle of continuous improvement.
Some protocols with higher education institutions and private entities have allowed a useful collaboration and relevant value added to activities in Research and Development, related to the environment and public health. We emphasize and highlight a project that started in August 2012, which was developed for the detection, treatment and disposal of pharmaceuticals in wastewater; it achieved very promising and encouraging results that give us the expectation of an industrial application at a short-term developed.
It is also referred the partnership with a non-governmental organization of environmental nature, Quercus, with collaboration in the sustainable management of waste.
1. System is characterized by the high adhesion of economic operators in the sector and the motivation to improve the environmental performance stipulated.
2. Good awareness of the brand VALORMED at a national level, both for citizens and professionals of Pharmacies and Parapharmacies, Distribution and Pharmaceutical Industry.
3. Good receptivity by pharmaceutical sector, supported in opinion surveys conducted.
4. Management of a system of differentiating waste, certified in Quality and Environment demonstrably based on suitable procedures of logistics, monitoring, control and treatment of waste (recycling).
5. Efficiency throughout years of operation, with no "incidents" or "accidents", thanks to the control and monitoring system implemented from the start.
6. Growing public adherence, reflected in the steady increase of amounts collected year after year.
7. Scarce membership of skincare cosmetics companies in the sector, enhancing relevant increments of financial income.
8. Effective performance of the system at European level.
If, on the one hand, it is unthinkable to give up the comfort and quality of life that society aims, on the other hand, we have become aware that a large part of the environmental problems arise from the current daily habits which, if not countered, could endanger the future of the planet.
Therefore, the strategy of VALORMED will aim to continue to engage and raise awareness, particularly younger ones, to adopt good practices for a healthier environment, through the thematic approach and implementation of initiatives that, with a multiplier effect in the community, can improve the environmental awareness and change behaviors.
VALORMED ought to contribute today to the education of social actors of tomorrow, providing them with the necessary concepts and creativity to find solutions to the challenge of sustainable development.
Revised, November 2019
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