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What's it mean to be green?

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New York Green. It’s a buzzword, but what does the growing awareness around green mean to pharmacy operators beyond trading the white lab coats for olive?

For starters, become a receiving repository for pharmaceutical waste. Already, two West Coast pharmacies that trade on a “natural” druggist brand identity—Pharmaca and Elephant Pharmacy—have agreed to accept unused medicines (with the exception of controlled substances) and have them incinerated in the San Francisco Bay area.

Recent studies found that more than 80 percent of waterways tested in the United States contained traces of such common medications as acetaminophen, hormones, antidepressants, blood pressure medicine, codeine and antibiotics. Presently, as many as 54 percent of consumers dispose of their medicines by throwing them in the trash, and 35 percent flush them down the toilet.

The Teleosis Institute, a not-for-profit organization offering a green solution on the problem of pharmaceutical waste, reported that more than 700 pounds of unused and expired medicines were diverted from San Francisco waterways in 2007, thanks to partners East Bay Municipal Utilities District, Save The Bay, Kaiser Permanente, Elephant Pharmacy, Pharmaca, Whole Foods and the City of Berkeley.

Pharmaca has been the most successful with the new program, Joel Kreisberg, executive director of the Institute, told Drug Store News. “They fill up a 7-gallon bin every 10 days,” he said. “From the pharmacy perspective, it’s a [public] service.”

And that’s not even a full calendar year of results—Teleosis launched the Green Pharmacy Program in May 2007.

And the costs to implement a green-pharmacy program aren’t extravagant—totaling a little more than $100 per month per take-back location.

Currently 12 pilot take-back sites are operating in Bay Area pharmacies, doctor and dental offices, veterinary hospitals, healthcare facilities and local recycling events. Staff at take-back sites document all returned medicines and screen for controlled substances, which are turned away because of current Drug Enforcement Agency restrictions. Medications are collected from take-back bins for incineration (the most environmentally safe disposal method) by Integrated Waste Control, a Hayward, Calif.-based waste hauler.

Green Pharmacy is unique in that the site manager documents all returned medicines through the Unused and Expired Medicine Registry, a program developed by the Community Medical Foundation for Patient Safety in Texas, which compiles national statistics on medicines returned and reasons for disposal. Once a statistically significant sample is documented, that data will be presented to pharmaceutical researchers, manufacturers and governmental organizations to build support for take-back programs nationwide.

According to Kreisberg, the purpose of collecting data on unused medicine is to identify which pharmaceuticals most often are unused or overprescribed, suggesting that the data may be of interest to the third-party payers as well. “By deepening our understanding of the quantities of medicines discarded, we can better comprehend the effectiveness of our current pharmacological approaches to illness, presenting a case for sustainable health care,” Kreisberg said.

That idea will go part and parcel with the message that less is more, or rather that purchasing less affords less opportunity for more waste. The concept is especially relevant across all those acute remedies found in the medicine cabinet, whether nonprescription or Rx, due to the expiration dates. And while this message may not bode well for club retailers or mail-order operators filling 90-day prescriptions, it’s a message that will resonate profitably with pharmacy operators trading on convenience—buying items of smaller quantity could equate to more frequent trips to the retailer. And those are more trips that could be parlayed into larger market baskets. Reducing prescriptions to a 28-day supply cuts the amount of discarded medicines by as much as 30 percent, Kreisberg reported.

Some of the medicines themselves are becoming more eco-friendly, too. For instance, the Food and Drug Administration last month met regarding its proposed rule expanding a ban on the use of ozone-depleting substances in metered-dose inhalers, which includes products containing epinephrine, such as Wyeth’s Primatene Mist. Already, asthma inhalers containing albuterol will need to switch from chlorofluorocarbon-producing, metered-dose inhalers to the propellant hydrofluoroalkane, which carries medicine into the lungs without emitting any known ozone-depleting chemicals, by December 2008.

The agency recently proposed removing the essential-use designation for epinephrine MDIs, effectively banning the use of such products. A 2011 implement date is proposed.

The green movement is not just in the pharmaceutical industry, however. Almost 1-in-5 of today’s consumers are willing to pay more for environmentally friendlier products, according to a Deloitte survey published in November. That survey of more than 14,000 consumers also found that 17 percent of consumers are concerned enough about “green” that they would gravitate toward retailers they consider green-friendly.

An AARP survey of more than 30,000 baby boomers and their elders released last month found that some 40 million boomers plan to use their purchasing power to buy environmentally safe brands. Referred to as “green boomers,” this large segment often is more demanding of quality in the products and services they buy, more attuned to advertising and exhibits higher brand loyalty than other boomers, the AARP reported.

The tendency to buy environmentally safe brands correlates directly with age, with mature consumers even more likely to be "green."

"As consumers get older, they become more aware of their legacy and leaving a positive mark on the world, and this is particularly true of boomers,” said Heather Stern, director of marketing for Focalyst, a joint venture between AARP Services Inc., a wholly-owned subsidiary of AARP, and Kantar, the research insight and consultancy arm of the marketing and communications company WPP. “We anticipate that as time goes on, more and more boomer shoppers will simply expect brands to be eco-friendly, and rather than this being a point of brand differentiation, it will be a price of entry.”

Not only are the costs associated with going green more and more likely to become ingrained into the cost of going to market from a consumer perspective, but also from a legislative perspective. Many states already have followed the lead of California in terms of emissions standards, and now that California is focused on a green agenda, many states are expected to hop onto that corn-burning bandwagon as well.

Among the bills signed into law by Gov. Arnold Schwarzenegger last year were the creation of new state rules by 2009 that will require an increase in the energy efficiency of indoor light bulbs by 50 percent by 2018, a requirement of the California Integrated Waste Management Board to develop statewide programs to collect and dispose of expired pharmaceutical drugs and the availability of $250 million each year in incentives to both homeowners and businesses who install rooftop solar hot water heaters that reduce natural gas use.

And in July, California enacted a law that requires large stores to take back plastic bags and encourage their reuse. And San Francisco last spring became the first city in the United States to ban use of plastic bags at large supermarkets.

New Jersey introduced legislation Nov. 19 that would make the Garden State the first state to ban plastic grocery bags altogether. The bill currently is under consideration in the state Assembly Environment and Solid Waste Committee. Under the measure, retail stores with 10,000 square feet of space or more would be required to cut their use of plastic bags in half by Dec. 31, 2009, and eliminate their use entirely by Dec. 31, 2010. New York City also has introduced legislation calling for the recycling of plastic bags.

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