Waste management

What is Waste management at AstraZeneca?

Company operations generate waste, including biological waste and hazardous waste, and manage its disposal. These wastes can have adverse impacts on the environment and human health through pollution.

Our approach

Working with colleagues and external specialists, we take a holistic approach to addressing waste, looking not only at waste in its end state but also evaluating how it got there. We assess initiatives that address waste produced in distinct ways:

  • Production
  • On-site with employees
  • Disposal

We prioritise waste prevention and work to change our processes to reduce the volume of waste we generate. For example, we are investing in solvent recovery systems, allowing us to reuse solvents in our processes, minimising waste streams and reducing our reliance on raw materials. We also aim to maximise recycling, ensure the safe treatment of our waste, and promote responsible end-of-life disposal of our medicines. Our sites align with global packaging standards, introduced in 2016, which improve efficiency by defining standard pack designs and materials.

Our targets and progress


Designing out waste of a breast cancer medicine

Process improvements cut waste during substance manufacturing by 89% for a breast cancer medicine. These improvements, designed and developed in just eight months, resulted in an 88% decrease of by-products used during early manufacturing. Financial savings included that the associated medicine substance costs were cut in 2018 by 60%. This achievement demonstrates how investment can have long-term impacts across the portfolio and have sustainability benefits. Prior to this discovery, a process called chromatography was employed to control medicine impurities, with associated waste by-products and costs of $65,000 per kilogram of medicine substance. The subsequent discovery of a process without chromatography led to the reduction in waste and cost savings. The new process was suitable for further scaling, with the result that additional materials were manufactured in November 2018, avoiding the need for several smaller and costlier deliveries.

Participating in the circular economy | Waste management

AstraZeneca is part of the UK Research and Innovation (UKRI) Circular Economy Approaches to Eliminate Plastic Waste team awarded $1.25 million from the Plastics Research Innovation Fund. The team had a successful proposal in the Creative Circular Economy Approaches to Eliminate Plastics Waste competition, managed by UKRI, to develop innovative solutions to eliminate plastic waste. We will be working alongside industrial, technical and academic partners to advance new plastic recycling techniques, develop faster degrading plastics and implement the circular economy (e.g. product take-back).

Take-back pilot in US

In January 2018, Express Scripts pharmacy management and recycling company TerraCycle launched an inhaler recycling programme pilot for 9,000 patients using AstraZeneca inhalers. The primary goal was to assess the ability to recover and recycle the unused propellant gas remaining in the inhaler canister and measure the impact it could have on our greenhouse gas footprint. In addition, the plastics and metals were also recycled. The pilot concluded in June with a participation level four times higher than other similar-sized initiatives conducted by Express Scripts. These were the results:

  • 1,023 inhalers were received back through the programme = the recovery of 21kg of plastic, 10kg of metals and 2kg of gas
  • 251km = the gas recovered is equivalent to greenhouse gas emissions from 251km driven by a passenger vehicle

System PMI and waste improvements

We installed improved lab reactor systems at our Macclesfield, UK site to replace the existing ageing equipment. The new systems are improving the efficiency of our drug development teams, allowing us to develop more efficient ways of manufacturing our products. The new systems require 97% less energy and reduce solvent use by 80%. But more significantly, through PMI improvements, the new systems reduce the amount of materials needed in API manufacture. The efficiency improvements gained in the development of our cancer medicine resulted in a PMI reduction from 501 to 112, meaning we could produce more than four times the API with the same amount of input materials. We also realised reductions of up to 778 tonnes of hazardous waste and 1,840 tonnes of CO2 per year.