We Need a Cure for Plastic Pollution from Prescriptions

We Need a Cure for Plastic Pollution from Prescriptions

We Need a Cure for Plastic Pollution from Prescriptions

Prescription medications play a big role in health. Unfortunately, their containers play a big role in pollution

     
We Need a Cure for Plastic Pollution from Prescriptions
image by: Barksdale Air Force Base

Not long ago my doctor informed me that, like most Americans, I suffer from a vitamin D deficiency. No big deal. With a prescription for a weekly megadose, before long I’d have all the D I needed and none of the sun damage to my skin.

What I didn’t expect was that by accepting this prescription program, because of a well-intended pharmaceutical regulation, there would be a new way in which I would be contributing to the problem of plastic pollution.

According to Sec. 1717(a) of the California Code of Regulations, “No medication shall be dispensed on prescription except in a new container which conforms with standards established in official compendia.” At first glance, nothing seems amiss. “Official compendia” simply refers to labeling and such; and “new container,” well, that’s pretty straightforward.

But as I soon found out, it’s too straightforward, and inflexibly so. The problem begins reveal itself when you look at what I get each month: four little green orbs. In a new plastic bottle. Each and every month.

Despite the fact that the bottle I am given is the smallest standard size (13 drams), the pills are so tiny that when I turn the bottle upside-down all four fit within its lid. In other words, 95 percent of the plastic used to dispense the pills to me is completely superfluous. What I should be given is a container the size of the lid.

But even were there such a container, I wouldn’t want a new one every month. Over the years I have become increasingly conscious of waste and conspicuous consumerism, and I have taken steps to reduce my contribution to the problem. I don’t want to consume a new plastic container every time I want water on the go, so I take a refillable plastic canteen with me rather than buying bottled water.

That, I told my friendly neighborhood pharmacist, is exactly what I want to do with my vitamin D megadose: bring my container and have him place the four little pills inside. If the “official compendia” requires him to print up a new label each month, we can slap that over the old one just like we all do with the vehicle registration stickers on our license plates each year. What I definitely don’t need a new bottle.

CC Sec. 1717(a) was crafted in a less enlightened time, when public consciousness of issues like plastic pollution was so dim that government officials could somewhat plausibly plead ignorance of just how environmentally irresponsible such practices are. And no-one can be faulted for wanting to ensure that our prescription medications come in clean containers.

But the same can be said about water, and yet these days we find more and more public events where water stations are provided so that attendees can fill—and refill, and refill—their own containers, thereby slaking their thirst without having to be part of the plastic problem.

My doctor tells me that, should I desire to maintain a healthy vitamin D level, I will be on my megadose for the rest of my life. If I live for another 30 years, that is 360 pill bottles. I know, I know: not exactly enough to stretch to the moon and back, not enough to fill even the smallest landfill, not enough to poison a pond. And they can be recycled (downcycled, actually, but never mind), right? And although it requires energy to run a recycling plant, how much will be used to recycle 360 skinny, 3” bottles and their lids? A teensy bit of carbon will get into the atmosphere. Big whoop. It’s not like it’ll make a difference to global warming.

Except that it does. The totality of pollution adds up bottle by bottle, emission by emission, molecule by molecule, just as the totality of the planet’s 7 billion inhabitants adds up person by person. So yeah, I’m just one little person. But let’s say that currently there are 25 million people (i.e., 1/280th of Earth’s population) who will be on some sort of prescription for the next 30 years. That’s over 15 billion bottles. That’s not enough to get to the moon and back, either—only enough to get to the moon and about one-sixth of the way back.

That figure, by the way, is most certainly a gross understatement of how many bottles get used. In the U.S. alone, for example approximately 4 billion prescriptions are dispensed each year. If the status quo remains in place, over the next 30 years that’s 120 billion bottles (some taller than 3”, of course), or enough to stretch to the moon and back over seven times. And that’s just from Americans, who make up less than 5% of the world population.

But dazzling you with numbers is beside the point. I’m just talking about me, one little fellow who wants to follow my doctor’s advice without needlessly contributing to a problem that in other aspects of life I endeavor to avoid. Why should bureaucracy make me part of the problem? With a simple, commonsensical regulatory tweak, my government could take a step toward being part of the solution, thereby allowing other likeminded individuals to do the same. It may seem like a small thing, but from governments to citizens to environments, every bit counts.

 


About the Author:

Except for a four-month sojourn in Comoros (a small island nation near the northwest of Madagascar), Greggory Moore has lived his entire life in Southern California. Currently he resides in Long Beach, CA, where he engages in a variety of activities, including playing in the band MOVE, performing as a member of RIOTstage, and, of course, writing.

His work has appeared in the Los Angeles Times, OC Weekly, Daily Kos, the Long Beach Post, Random Lengths News, The District Weekly, GreaterLongBeach.com, and a variety of academic and literary journals. HIs first novel, The Use of Regret, was published in 2011, and he is currently at work on his follow-up. Contact: [email protected]

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Last Updated : Saturday, July 14, 2018