Niki Watts, pharmacist owner and IP at Vale of Neath Pharmacy in Glynneath, Wales, tells Saša Janković how a recycling initiative has increased footfall for his services.

Service type: Blister pack recycling

Name and location of pharmacy: Vale of Neath Pharmacy, Glynneath

Name of pharmacist: Niki Watts, superintendent pharmacist

When did you start offering this service? About a year ago

Why did you start offering this service?

Reducing our environmental impact has become a core part of our business, and tackling the amount of waste we were sending to landfill is integral to this. We also had a number of customers – and patients from the GP surgery we are attached to – coming in with bags full of empty blister packs and asking us if there was a way to recycle them, as blister packets are not recycled by local councils.

I did some research and found that Terracycle runs an Empty Medicine Blister Packs Zero Waste Box scheme so we signed up for that.

How much did it cost to set up the service?

There is a cost to us of £160 for the large bin, which covers the shipping, storage and processing of the waste at the materials recovery facility.

In a nutshell, what does the service involve?

Unfortunately, due to the combination of materials which make up medicine blister packs, they cannot be recycled through traditional means such as kerbside collections as the costs of separating and processing them are just too high for councils to afford. This means that the majority of empty blister packs end up in landfill or incineration, or worse, if disposed of incorrectly, in our oceans and waterways.

Customers can put any brand of empty medicine blister packs into the recycling box, and TerraCycle works with processors who turn the waste into a reusable pellet material can then be used by third parties to manufacture a variety of new products including outdoor furniture, bins, planters and even playgrounds for schools.

Are there any opportunities to sell OTC or prescription products during or after the consultation?

The box has been a great addition to the pharmacy, proving very popular with staff and customers alike. In fact we’ve gained new customers who share our eco-friendly mindset and have seen an increase in footfall as a result. Not only does this give people another reason to shop with us, but it gives us the opportunity to introduce our services to new customers – and particularly to explain what we can do for them via our independent prescribing service, which many people are not aware of.

Another green initiative we have just started is an inhaler recycling scheme, which is being funded by the Welsh government. This links in really well with our inhaler review service, because if we see an inhaler coming back we can check if it’s full or not and that can stimulate a conversation with the patient about if it’s being used properly or even at all.

How have patients responded to the service?

Customers and patients are getting much more switched on to green initiatives and if you offer green alternatives in your pharmacy it brings a certain cohort of patients with it. Some people are very keen on their recycling and when they can see an opportunity to recycle more they will support the businesses trying to do help with that. Our customers have said “thank goodness you are doing this as I've been saving these packs for ages”.

Roughly how often each month do you carry out the service?

We originally bought three of the medium sized boxes but have now purchased a larger box as we were filling one every month.

Would you recommend offering this service to other contractors?

It is definitely worthwhile going greener for so many reasons – the amount of green products is growing and it’s also a massive patient base – particularly among younger customers – so anything you can do to support them, and support more eco-friendly business practices, is a good idea and brings more people into contact with your pharmacy.