First ever injection pen recycling pilot launched in UK pharmacies

Novo Nordisk has launched the PenCycle scheme to enable people to recycle their pre-filled FlexPen and FlexTouch devices by returning them to participating pharmacies or through pre-paid Royal Mail boxes which hold up to 12 used pens (with the needles removed).

This system, called PenCycle, started on 1st November 2021 and is being run in partnership with Alliance Healthcare, Lloyds Pharmacy, the National Pharmacy Association (NPA) and Royal Mail. It will be piloted in 13 clinical commissioning groups in Greater Manchester and Leicestershire and Rutland and in the Greater Glasgow and Clyde health board, ahead of a planned national rollout in 2022. The scheme is thought to be the first of its kind in the UK.

In 2020/2021, nearly 2.5 million FlexPen and FlexTouch devices containing insulin were dispensed from community pharmacies in England. Novo Nordisk is aiming to prevent more than one million pre-filled plastic injection pen devices ending up in landfill or being incinerated by the end of 2022.

How will the scheme work?

  • Any pharmacy in the pilot areas can sign up to join the scheme and they will be sent practical guidance on the initiative, patient information and materials for patients to take home, including a return box.
  • The pharmacy then stores filled return boxes in a recycling bin provided by the scheme, which is collected by Alliance Healthcare during a scheduled delivery slot.
  • The pens will be sent to Novo Nordisk’s headquarters in Denmark for the plastic to be recycled into a range of items, such as chairs and lightbulbs.

At the end of 2022, it expects that 1.1 million pen devices will have been recycled, with the potential to recycle more than 3 million pen devices in 2023, preventing more than 56 tonnes of plastic waste.

Just a blast from the past!

The first re-useable pens were introduced by Novo Nordisk in 1985 and in 1989, disposable pens were introduced. At the time, I, along with many other people living with diabetes, raised the issue of all the plastic waste involved in converting people to disposable pens compared to re-usable pens. Yes, we were environmentally aware even then. Our concerns fell on deaf ears and disposable pens were marketed as ‘pre-filled pens’ which sounds much more acceptable! It seems that after 32 years, our concerns have been heard!

Jenny Hirst

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