Pharmaceutical Waste

Concern is growing in New Zealand about the impact of pharmaceutical waste.

Without a nationally consistent service for education and disposal of pharmaceutical waste, practices are varied, our environment and our communities are at risk, and there is a significant avoidable cost.

3R have met with industry representatives to gather support for a project to investigate product stewardship for pharmaceutical waste.

A stewardship programme would interrupt the current undesirable practices of disposal, or lack thereof, and introduce a best practice, nationwide programme for the management of pharmaceutical waste that is promoted to the public and accessible for all.  The project will also identify potential causes of waste and how circular economy principles can be applied to the industry and push for commitment to introduce these changes.

Four key factors

Risk to Community
Medicines that are no longer required for treatment but remain in the home are a risk to our communities. There is a risk of harm occurring if they were taken by someone that they weren’t prescribed for, taken when expired, or taken by children.

Risk to Environment
Pharmaceutical waste has already been discovered in our environment. The recently published State of our Gulf 2017 reported that recent tests for 46 pharmaceuticals in Auckland estuary sediments detected 21 products at one or more sites.

Potential to save money
A 2016 white paper produced by SimplHealth reported that “in New Zealand there is an $800m annual spend on pharmaceuticals, and an estimated $40m cost from medication waste, or five per cent”. If this waste could be avoided, this money could be redirected to other DHB priorities.

Select committee recommendation The health select committee in 2016 recommended the development of an up-to-date national policy on how to dispose of unused and unwanted medicines, the need to investigate further options to address the question of pharmaceutical waste, and for a nationally consistent process to be developed.

The Project

The proposed project would span three years, funded by key stakeholders in healthcare. Key stakeholders would be represented by an advisory group formed from the industry, and this would also provide the project governance.

Goals of the Project

  • Review the current situation, including the scale of the problem, the drivers of the problem, and current disposal practices.
  • Identify where circular economy principles could be applied to pharmaceutical waste.
  • Research and identify best practice for management and disposal of pharmaceutical waste.
  • Design a nationwide programme for collection and disposal of pharmaceutical waste, including marketing and communication.

Role of 3R Group

  • 3R is an independent third party with expertise in product stewardship that will provide for overall project management as the solutions are explored and developed.
  • This includes expert advice, materials for discussion, and support for funding submissions for the Working Group in accordance with the terms of reference.
  • 3R will stay abreast of issues and bring key matters, reports, documents and legislation to the attention of members in a timely, efficient and ethical manner.

Get involved

Be part of the solution

If you have an interest in pharmaceutical waste, join us in creating a safe and sustainable best practice solution.



Report of the Health Committee – Petition 2014/15 of Anthony Roberts and 40 others


Hauraki Gulf Forum – Hauraki Gulf / Tīkapa Moana / Te Moana-nui-a-Toi, State of the Environment Report 2017


Simpl Health 2016 – Waste not, Want not. Information and its role in reducing medication waste

This is a unique website which will require a more modern browser to work!

Please upgrade today!