Pharmaceuticals in the environment

What is Pharmaceuticals in the environment at AstraZeneca?

Patient excretion, improper disposal of unused medicines and discharges from drug production result in the release of APIs into the environment. Potential impacts include effects in aquatic life from low-level and long-term exposure.

Our approach

We believe that, even at very low concentrations, the risks associated with PIE should be determined and managed. We dedicate resources to better understand and minimise the impacts of our medicines. We lead our industry in the management of PIE-related concerns; we are the only company with targets for discharge limits that are externally verified and the only company with a visible approach to ecopharmacovigilance. We were also the first company to publish our environmental risk assessment data on our web pages. We know we don’t have all the answers on PIE, so we look externally to stimulate conversations and research, to encourage responsible and collective action.


Our targets and progress

Our Stories

Making it easier to dispose of medicines

People improperly disposing of their unused medicines is one of the three main ways pharmaceuticals can enter the environment. One way we’re combating this is by providing a way for patients to dispose of their medicines in a safe way, regardless of whether it is an AstraZeneca product or not. In Colombia, for example, we partner with the Punto Azul (Blue Point) programme and other pharmaceutical companies to set up collection containers in pharmacies, universities and large markets across the country. The bins are used for unused and expired medicines, and medicine containers and packaging. Not only does this fight pharmaceuticals waste in the environment, it helps avoid counterfeiting and landfill waste.

Ecopharmacovigilance review

Part of our ongoing due diligence in addressing PIE involves ensuring any associated environmental issues are identified in a timely way and managed appropriately. We conduct quarterly reviews of emerging science for environmental risks of our APIs. To begin, we collate measured environmental concentrations of our APIs in surface waters and domestic sewage effluents. We then compare these values with the values that are considered safe according to our ERA and safe API discharge programme.

In many cases, our APIs are not detected in the environment – either because those particular ingredients are not being monitored or because their levels are below the limits of detection used by environmental chemists. In the cases in which our APIs have been detected in the environment, we concluded by using established scientific approaches that these APIs currently pose low or insignificant environmental risk.

Working with other pharmaceutical companies, we have published a comprehensive ERA of metformin, an active ingredient used widely in diabetes treatment, and its metabolite guanylurea.1 This ERA indicated that neither metformin nor its metabolite are predicted to pose any risk to the environment based on current data.

View our table of ERAs for more information.

Learn more from this video