Diabetes

The need for less waste and more recycling in diabetes technology

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The European Association for the Study of Diabetes will present a presentation at its annual meeting in Stockholm (19-23 Sept). This presentation will discuss how to reduce the waste generated by diabetes care products as well as different strategies for increasing sustainability and recycling for diabetes technologies. Professor Lutz H. Heinemann, Science Consulting in Diabetes GmbH (Kaarst), Germany, will present the talk.

In summer 2021, a group of medical specialists, environmental health professionals, and manufacturers came together to reduce the impact of plastics used in diabetes care. Prof Heinemann explains, “After all, disposable diabetes devices—such as needles, syringes and pens, lancets, blood glucose monitoring strips and monitors, systems for continuous glucose monitoring, insulin bottles, infusion tubing, disposable pumps, and batteries—create enormous amounts of plastic and other waste. Even though the weight and volume of the waste may be only 10%, the packaging makes up the remainder.

The Diabetes Technology Society (DTS), a U.S. organization, is leading the charge in reducing diabetes-related waste. The DTS is committed towards conserving natural resources and waste management processes in order to promote environmental sustainability. They base their approach around the five Rs: Reducing, Reusing, Recycling, Redesigning, Designing, and Re-Educating.

The Green Diabetes Summit was convened by the DTS in 2021. This summit was the first time that all parties from relevant groups met to discuss sustainability and reducing plastic waste.

Prof. Heinemann explains that it was clear that everyone had to step out of their comfort zones and see what they could contribute. He also explains, “Only by joining forces, building coalitions, we will be able to tackle plastic waste from diabetes treatment.” We must improve the sustainability of diabetes devices throughout their life span, including the use and packaging of raw materials, transport, and packaging.

Recycling is a common practice in diabetes. Novo Nordisk’s first insulin pen was made available to the public through a recycling program in the 1990s. The pens were made into park benches by recycling them. Patients can now recycle used pen through pharmacies in Denmark under the Novo Nordisk pilot programme. Although recycling products seems like a great idea, it can be difficult to separate the different parts of current products. There is currently a very small market for recycled plastic.

The Green Diabetes Summit discussed the importance to balance performance and environmental impact when developing new products.

Prof Heinemann says that there is a need to shift the mindset when designing new products that tackle this issue. “Designers must consider recycling from the very beginning. It’s difficult to separate plastic, electronic parts, or batteries. It is important to change the mindset of buyers and sellers of diabetes products in order for sustainable products to be seen favorably and have a competitive advantage on the market. There will always be costs associated with recycling and other environmental initiatives.

It is not clear whether patients or health care providers, even in high-income nations, are willing and able to pay more for environmentally friendly products. The triple bottom line, which is used to evaluate the sustainability of a company or organization, (profit, people and planet), is an accounting framework that includes financial performance as well social and environmental benefits. To ensure that the industry considers environmental benefits in product design, it will require a shift in society’s consciousness.

Prof Heinemann states that patients with diabetes will be more concerned about plastic waste. Companies will benefit if they consider the environmental impact of any insulin pen or CGM device before making a decision. These companies will benefit from the regulatory and legal frameworks that require them to reduce their environmental footprint.

Prof. Heinemann concludes that “a recognition that a concerted effort and a collaborative approach regarding the handling of waste as associated with diabetes therapy is emerging” and “if all stakeholders work together in creating coalitions devoted diabetes device sustainability, waste management, then there are many things that can be achieved.”


With better standards, we could make plastics endlessly useful and slash waste


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