Novo Nordisk was the first company we toured during our Denmark Energy Tour. Novo Nordisk is a global healthcare company focusing primarily on the care of diabetes. They produce insulin and other diabetes related products. As the parent of a child with diabetes, I was very excited to visit this facility because my daughter has been using their products for many years.
NovoNordisk has been facing up to their responsibility with climate change in a big way. They have created a blueprint for change and are committed to doing business in a financially, environmentally and socially responsible way. They are embracing many innovative and leading edge initiatives. Yet one thing remains overlooked – they do not provide environmentally sound disposal options for the end users of their products. They produce both needles, which need to be disposed of in a sharps container, and plastic insulin pens, which should be recycled. Currently most sharps containers and used plastic pens are placed into the normal trash and in America most of those end up in landfills. As part of their continued commitment to the environment NovoNordisk is positioned to lead the way for providing safe options for recycling these types of products.
As the parent of a child with diabetes I have struggled with the issue of how to dispose of used needles and insulin pens for many years. My daughter’s clinic provides us with a new sharps container for the disposal of her used needles every year. Yet once these containers are full, there is nowhere to take them. We’ve been told to call our city, the local pharmacy and/or hospitals – all refuse to take our sharps containers. We’ve been told repeatedly that the best way to get rid of them is to duct tape them shut and put them in the trash. This makes me cringe. I do not feel good about placing a large hard plastic box filled with needles into the landfill. This feels wrong on many levels.
In Maine the disposal of needles and other sharp objects continues to be an issue. “Every month, DEP gets dozens of calls from home sharps users questioning how to dispose of their used sharps safely,” DEP Commissioner Patricia Aho said in a press release announcing the campaign. Maine residents use millions of medical “sharps,” such as needles, lancets and syringes, to control illnesses including diabetes, arthritis and infertility, according to the DEP. Stockpiling used sharps in the home or disposing of them improperly in the trash puts residents, their families and waste collection staff at risk for accidental needle sticks that can lead to infections and disease, said Samantha Depoy-Warren, a spokeswoman for the DEP.
The Maine.gov website tells residents to dispose of their needles by placing them in a sharps container and when it’s full, seal it with the cap and heavy-duty tape, mark “Do Not Recycle” and simply place in your household trash. This is the same thing we have been told for the last 11 years. This is not an environmentally friendly practice.
It is not clear how many sharps containers go into landfills each year. A typical hospital could use thousands of sharps containers each year. Many hospitals and health organizations across the country are now switching to recyclable sharps containers. They are making the switch to decrease their carbon footprint and in most cases recycling saves them money. Each reusable sharps container can be re-used up to 600 times – saving 600 plastic containers, for each recyclable container, from entering our landfills. Daniels Sharpsmarts, a company offering the reuse service, estimates the process eliminates 3.5 tons of plastic and 0.3 tons of cardboard per 100 beds. 
Something has to be done to stop these large plastic containers full of needles from filling up our landfills. According to the Coalition for Safe Community Needle Disposal, 13.5 million people in the United States are discarding 7.8 billion used needles outside the traditional healthcare setting.  As a global leader in healthcare, NovoNordisk is positioned to lead an environmentally sound initiative for the disposal of these medical supplies. They could partner with existing sharps recycling companies or take it on themselves.
Recycling sharps containers is the most environmentally friendly option. Yet most states, including the State of Maine do not seem to consider the disposal of sharps containers filled with needles and duct taped shut a hazard. The State of Maine distributed over 40,000 educational brochures last year recommending that individuals use the duct tape method, receive a free needle clipper and/or use a pre-paid mailer to mail back their used sharps. The pre-paid mailers can cost up to $30 per month, making it too costly for many individuals. Maine is in line with all the other states in what they recommend. Recycling is not encouraged. People are simply encouraged to put needles into a container or clip the needle to prevent injury.
According to Providence Health & Services nearly all pharmaceutical waste is disposed of in sharps containers and treated similarly to other forms of waste. Because of this, it ends up in landfills, rivers, streams, and oceans. This waste then finds its way into our water and our food. NovoNordisk could take the lead in keeping this waste out of our landfills.
My recommendation is that NovoNordisk include a prepaid recycling kit with the purchase of each pen and/or needle package. These recycling kits would include a small recyclable sharps container and a self-paid mailer to ship the containers to a recycling plant once full. This small step could make a major impact on our landfills worldwide. And this would further cement NovoNordisk’s position as a leader in taking care of our planet.