Can You Recycle Asthma Inhalers? (Don’t Make These Mistakes)

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Jean Richardson

Jean Richardson is a lover of knowledge, in all forms. He has spent over 15 years as a high school teacher, instructing students in history, geography, mathematics, and more.

If you have fallen victim to asthma, you most likely have a lot of used inhalers stacked up in your cabinet. Furthermore, you might have wondered how exactly to dispose of them, and if you are an environmentalist, you will certainly not throw them away with the rest of your trash. 

Therefore, what is the best way to dispose of your used inhalers? Are they recyclable? Well, continue reading to find out these answers and more in the article below!

Can You Recycle Asthma Inhalers?

Asthma inhalers can be recycled. Thankfully, this can happen because a company called GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) started an environmentally safe disposal method for inhalers, and it is accessible at all pharmacies. Furthermore, to recycle them, just return your inhaler to the pharmacist. Then, they can be thermally treated to eliminate greenhouse gas emissions and therefore, be safely recycled. 

Keep reading, and we will answer your questions about why, how, and where to dispose of your inhalers safely.  By the end of this article, you’ll have a clearer insight into all possible safe disposal methods currently available and a lot more!

What Are Inhalers Made of?

There are various types of inhalers available on the market, each of them with a different mechanism and purpose:

  • MDI (Metered-dose inhaler)
  • Dry powder inhaler
  • Soft mist inhaler
  • Smart inhaler
  • Nebulizer 

Of those different types of inhalers available, the smart inhaler is the most recent. 

However, the most commonly used inhaler is the MDI (metered-dose inhaler) which consists of: 

  • A metal canister – A canister is a container that is made up of stainless steel or aluminum. The canister is the part of the inhaler where the pharmaceutical propellant or suspension resides. A canister is a disposable chamber, usually solid and light for easy portability.
  • Plastic actuator – The actuator acts as a pathway and conducts the aerosols into the patient’s lungs when operated by the patient. The plastic actuator usually comes along with a dust cap to prevent contamination of the medicine. An actuator is the part of an inhaler that consists of three parts; namely a: 
    • Mouthpiece 
    • Mating discharge nozzle 
    • Body
  • A metering valve – As the name suggests, the metering value allows controlled and metered quantities of the dispensation of the formulation with each actuation.
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Why Can’t You Just Throw Away Your Used Inhalers?

It is essential to always properly dispose of any unutilized or expired inhalers safely. 

This is because inappropriate disposal of inhalers can lead to safety concerns for both environments as well as humans. 

Furthermore, a few other concerns that occur when unwanted or expired prescription medications are tossed in the garbage are: 

  • Fortuitous administration of drugs, or people taking advantage of a timely situation
  • Abuse 
  • Overdosing

These are concerns because they can be quickly retrieved from the refuse pile and abused or sold illegally.

Effects Of The Wrong Disposal, On The Environment 

The inhaler can explode or cause a fire if it gets punctured, making it threatening when it is dumped in a landfill. 

Also, inhalers are pressurized, so when they are discarded into a landfill and are exposed to inconsistent temperatures, that is when they gain the potential to explode. 

Furthermore, many times water gets polluted if the inhalers contain medical waste that leaks out of the canisters. 

Additionally, some older inhalers can contain chlorofluorocarbons, which can deplete the ozone layer. 

Although these are no longer distributed, proper disposal of inhalers will keep them from contaminating the environment and harming the planet.

Effect Of The Wrong Disposal, On People

By not disposing of the inhalers in the right manner, the chance of them falling into the hands of people who shouldn’t have them goes up. 

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This is a problem as many fraudsters tend to pick them up and resell them at lower costs, which is illegal as well as harmful to the one who buys them.

How To Dispose Of An Inhaler?

How To Dispose Of An Inhaler?

The new scheme introduced by GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) named ‘Complete the Cycle’ serves as an alternative method to throwing away your inhalers. 

GSK launched the first national inhaler recycling program in 2012 in the U.S, similar to the NHS program in England. 

Furthermore, you can return all the inhalers to pharmacies engaged with the GSK scheme.

Presently, Walgreens accepts inhalers to be added to their safe disposal program.

Here are the steps you will want to take to dispose of your spent inhaler properly:

  • The primary step anyone should take is to look into the disposal instructions on your inhaler, which might define the dos and don’ts of your particular device.
  • Next, do an online search for local pharmacies near you and find out if they will accept your used inhaler(s)
  • If you fail to find local pharmacies, you can always search for a medicine take-back program drop-off-site. However, it might be a better use of your time to make a single trip when you have gathered a substantial number of inhalers. 

Many other pharmacies accept inhalers too, however, it is advised to call a medicine take-back program drop-off site well in advance to ensure that they accept inhalers. 

Additionally, a few places like Washington State have publically funded medicine take-back programs that accept inhalers. 

However, every state has its own regulations, therefore, the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) recommends home disposal methods. 

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If you are out of options, we will walk through those procedures in the next part of the article.

Home Disposal Of Inhaler

As per the FDA, if a medicine take-back program is not available, all the medicine except for those on the FDA flush list can be discarded along with your household trash. 

However, a few steps must be followed to ensure safe disposal. 

The following are protocols to be followed for in-home disposal:

  • Draw all the left-over medicine from the canister and mix it with unpleasant substances like dirt to secure it from any misuse, malpractices, or poisoning.
  • Seal the mixture in a zip-tight container to keep it from spilling or leaking out. Throw the container in the garbage.
  • Scratch out all of your details on the empty medication packaging to secure your identity and privacy. 
  • Lastly, remove the wrap and dispose of the contents along with your home trash safely.

Conclusion

You can certainly get your inhalers recycled to reduce the amount of hydrofluoroalkanes (HFAs) released into the atmosphere and to allow the aluminum and stainless steel (used to manufacture canisters) to be recycled. 

Furthermore, the best way to dispose of your used inhaler is to use the medicine take-back program or return it to the pharmacy directly for safe disposal. However, if you cannot find a location to do so, home disposal can be an alternative way to dispose of your inhalers. 

Author

  • Jean Richardson is a lover of knowledge, in all forms. He has spent over 15 years as a high school teacher, instructing students in history, geography, mathematics, and more.

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