It's Easy Being Green

I'm sure you can guess from the title what this post is about. Today we're going to talk about greening the community pharmacy.

In case you aren't really an environmentalist yourself and need some convincing as to how this will benefit you, let's look at why going green makes great business sense:

  1. Reduced expenses: Reducing waste, in any form, ultimately improves your profit margins. Considering the average net margin for independent pharmacies is around 3% according to the last NCPA I saw, we need to take all we can get.

  2. More business: When I was in school for my MBA I took a marketing class and learned about the so-called 'LOHAS' market, or 'Lifestyles of Health and Sustainability.' To sum it up, this group is health conscious and concerned about sustainability and green initiatives. Many individuals in this group have a strong desire to 'vote with their pocket book,' spending at businesses that are truly making a difference beyond shareholder (or business owner) value. They have high expectations for the companies they frequent, but they are also among the highest-income consumers and have some of the highest levels of completed education. In other words, they're your commercial-paying customers that might shop your front-end store too and help pay your bills.

So what can you do to go green and help your pharmacy and the planet?

Here are some ideas to get you started:

Compostable Prescription Vials

I was pretty surprised to find this out, but there are actually companies in the business of manufacturing completely biodegradable prescription vials. Check these two out to get you started:

  1. iBottles

  2. Pharmacy Lite

Not only is this a great thing to do for the environment, but when I spoke with one of these companies over the phone they told me about an independent pharmacy that had started to see an uptick in transfers since switching. Many patients told the pharmacy they decided to transfer their prescriptions because of the biodegradable vial and being concerned about their own waste production.

Take a look at this pharmacy, for example, that is using it to draw in new business. Now that's something the chains aren't going to be able to compete with!

Prescription Vial and Stock Bottle Recycling Program

Most other bottles are made of HDPE or PP, both of which are recyclable. When I explored this in the past, I was told by a commercial recycler that stock bottles and prescription bottles were considered high-quality, food-grade plastic and carried a high value relative to other types of plastic waste.

Even if you switch to compostable vials, your customers will still appreciate being able to bring in vials from other pharmacies to recycle them. Plus, every time they come in it's basically free foot traffic for your store (you'll be paid for the plastic, so it doesn't really cost you anything to run the program).

If you have patients concerned enough about the environment they bring in bottles from other pharmacies for recycling in your store, they'll probably be very interested in your compostable vials and I would imagine you would get transfers out of them in the process.

The best way to do it? Put a sign up on your vial recycling bin advertising your compostable vials and reel them in.

This site, which I initially found through the Association of Plastics Recyclers, has contact information to help you get started and learn about the plastics recyclers in your community who might be able to work with you.

Reducing Bag Use

I understand the necessity in many pharmacy workflow setups to bag every prescription, but it always makes me sick how much waste that brings. The majority of customers probably don't recycle them, and even if they did it's not as good as not using the bag in the first place.

One of the chains I worked for did this well by having the old-school will-call system with the hanging bags. We always bagged the vial and leaflet directly in it.

I was uneasy about it for a while, but eventually started to realize the advantages. In addition to not using prescription bags, the technician ringing the patient up was able to get a second set of eyes on the vial to be sure it matched the prescription leaflet. On a handful of occasions, those techs caught errors before they left the pharmacy.


Another big form of waste: those leaflets we print for every prescription and are read by easily under 1% of all patients.

One solution? MedsOnCue. I've talked about this company before, but one super-cool thing about them is that in many states they have gotten BOP approval to have patients opt-out of leaflets and have only MedsOnCue instead.

If you're filling 3000 prescriptions a month and you get half of those on MedsOnCue you would save 1500 sheets a month plus the toner. When I did the calculations, even this small savings in paper would be enough to offset a lot of the cost of the service, plus patients will appreciate the counseling videos (be sure to advertise it to make your pharmacy stand out!).

Medication Take Back Program

Prescription drugs themselves can contribute to a lot of pollution if not disposed of properly. Not only does a medication take back program help with opioid and prescription drug abuse, but it also keeps medications out of the water supply.

There are cases of hormonal agents, for example, even causing hermaphroditic fish species to change sex, so it is a true threat to the environment.

I've also seen chemotherapy quite regularly in my bin, which otherwise could have ended up in the water stream.

Check out my post on this topic for a guide to implementing this program.

Improved Inventory Management

Inventory management software

If you have multiple stores, using a software program like SupplyLogix is a no-brainer. The software automatically taps into your computerized inventory and usage at all your stores and then, for each store, populates suggested inventory transfer to use up the 'crumbs.' If you have a 100-count bottle with 10 left in it (more complaining on that later), you can transfer it to a store that will actually use the drug.

Without a program like SupplyLogix, it's really just too unrealistic to be able to consistently move inventory between stores. I've tried with only two stores using a shared Google Sheets and it doesn't work. It's too time-consuming to constantly update it.