New inhaler recycling scheme is a breath of fresh air

February 02, 2011

People with respiratory illnesses can now recycle their inhalers thanks to a new initiative launched by The Co-operative Pharmacy and GlaxoSmithKline (GSK).

The scheme – a first in Europe – is part of an initial six-month trial in partnership with eco-friendly manufacturer, TerraCycle UK.  Approximately 35 million GSK respiratory inhalers, including 25 million Ventolin packs are used in the UK each year1 generating some 450 tonnes of waste which potentially end up in landfill or incineration.

From 1 February a total of 40 Co-operative Pharmacies across South Wales and the South of England will offer the service.

Pharmacists will remind individuals to return their used GSK inhaler and deposit it in a specially designed recycling box at the pharmacy which will be collected by TerraCycle UK on a monthly basis. Inhalers will then be taken to a sorting facility where they will be separated into material types. Every element of the inhaler will be recycled.

Fiona Caplan-Dean, Clinical Services Manager at The Co-operative Pharmacy, said: “There are more than five million people in the UK currently receiving treatment for asthma and other respiratory illnesses who rely on the use of inhalers, so the potential for recycling these products and reducing wastage is huge.

“Pharmacists are ideally placed to help reduce the impact of inhalers on the environment and as an organisation committed to responsible retailing as part of our ethical strategy2 we are delighted to be at the forefront of this exciting initiative which is a simple, yet effective.”

Nick Lowen, Commercial Operations Director at GSK, commented: “GSK is delighted to be working with The Co-operative Pharmacy and TerraCycle UK on this pioneering project. Finding innovative ways of transforming how we do our business, increasing our use of renewable materials and creating less waste, is a priority. As a company, we are determined to do more and set the standard for the pharmaceutical industry, stepping up our efforts to become more sustainable.”


For further information on the scheme visit:'> 




Notes to editor

Prevalence of respiratory disease in the UK

  •  5.4 million people currently receiving treatment for asthma3
  • An estimated 3 million people have COPD in the UK4
  1.  Source: IMS BPI/HPA Trawling database (UNITS/MAT/11/2020)
  2. For further information on The Co-operative Pharmacy’s ethical strategy visit:
  3. Asthma UK. January 2011 
  4. NICE COPD Guideline 101, June 2010

About the project

When an empty GSK inhaler is returned to the pharmacy it will be placed in a specially designed recycling box as supplied by TerraCycle UK. The box will be returned to TerraCycle UK via courier at least once a month. Once the inhalers reach the TerraCycle UK facility in Essex, they will be processed and sorted into material type. The plastics will remain on site for processing, after which the recycled components will be sold on for use in new products. The recovered aerosol will be sent to a specialist company who use compaction and gas-liquid separation in order to recycle the metal components and collect any remaining liquid or propellant gas. The gas is then used as a replacement fuel in high temperature incinerators and cement kilns and no part of the aerosol container goes to landfill. The blister strip which previously contained medically active ingredients will then be treated by a specialist process in accordance with clinical guidelines.


About GSK

GlaxoSmithKline (GSK) – one of the world’s leading research-based pharmaceutical and healthcare companies. GSK is committed to improving the quality of human life by enabling people to do more, feel better and live longer. For company information, please visit


About TerraCycle

TerraCycle’s purpose is to eliminate the idea of waste by creating national recycling systems for the previously non-recyclable. The process starts by offering collect programmes (many of them free) to collect your waste and then convert the collected waste into a wide range of products and materials. With over 14 million people collecting waste in 11 countries billions of pieces of waste have been either upcycled or recycled into over 1,500 various products available at major retailers ranging from Walmart to Whole Foods Market.