Can You Recycle Medical Devices Like Insulin Pens, Inhalers and Covid Tests?

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“What we really need is an evolving, specialized recycling infrastructure alongside the big five — paper, glass, plastic, metal and cardboard,” said Mitch Ratcliffe, publisher of the website Earth911. “That conversation is really picking up steam in some particular categories, but not in medical equipment at all.”

A few designers and companies are exploring alternatives that are more reusable or safer for the environment.

The inhalers that many people use for treatment of asthma or other respiratory ailments contain potentially recyclable materials. But those with leftover medication or propellants may also be hazardous if incinerated or compacted.

The steel or aluminum canisters containing the medication should generally be returned to a pharmacy that accepts medical waste. The Asthma and Allergy Foundation of America also recommends checking with your local health department because it sometimes has disposal options.

Metered-dose inhalers also use hydrofluorocarbon propellants, which are a potent greenhouse gas. The roughly 144 million metered-dose inhalers Americans used in 2020 released emissions equivalent to six months of driving by a million cars. When medically appropriate, inhalers equipped with dry powder or soft mist are considered greener devices.

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