Recycle: Asthma Puffers (Inhalers)

I’m sitting here with my leg hurting from tonight’s injection (damn legs give me more trouble than anywhere else!), and I kind of let my mind wander. It wandered to the asthma puffers (inhalers, if you’re American) sitting on my bedside table. On the very slim chance you haven’t seen one before, they are number 2 HDPE plastic devices which each contain a pressurised metal cylinder full of medication. You place the plastic mouthpiece in your mouth, press down on the canister, and breathe in the gaseous medication it emits. Ta-da. Nice and simple; I’ve been using them since I was a kid… so you can imagine how many I’ve gone through over the years.


Asthma puffers really puff! (Note: this is not my puffer, so check your own puffer to find out what kind of plastic it is before you get too excited!)

I recently had to replace an empty puffer, and as I did so, I got cranky about the waste. Not for the first time, I wondered why there’s no puffer recycling program. Folks have come up with all kinds of weird and wacky ways to reuse the little suckers, and I know how dispose of expired (not empty) medication – in my area, you take it back to the pharmacy; pretty easy. Brisbane City Council’s plastic recycling fact sheet seems to suggest they could go in the standard yellow-lidded recycling bin… but they have some broad caveats, so I think that would warrant checking.

No-one (as far as I can find) seems to have something universal, concrete and 100% fo’ shiz definite that will work for everyone to reduce, reuse and/or recycle these plastic and metal constructs that millions of people use to stay alive or live a normal life. Which is crappy. Sometimes I don’t want to have to research my finicky, regional niche recyclers – I just want the ubiquitous big-guy! Sometimes I’m too tired to be picky.

So I guess what I’m ultimately saying is: does anyone know of anything or have any suggestions, aside from having to mail my empty puffers halfway round the world to GlaxoSmithKline‘s North Carolina offices?

I plan to continue to research this (including emailing Brisbane City Council) and will let you know what I find out.

P.S. You know what? My leg still stings… but I think I’m sleepy enough now not to care. Silver lining!



4 thoughts on “Recycle: Asthma Puffers (Inhalers)

  1. Funny you should say this, Im actually undertaking a design project for Glaxo Smith for this reason, to reduce the waste caused by inhalors.

    Hopefully I will find a solution 🙂

    • Oooh, how exciting! I’m really pleased to hear the big pharmaceutical companies are considering this. I hope it goes well and you come up with something great – I’d love to not throw away so much plastic, but I really can’t think of a re-use for it.

      What kinds of things are you thinking of? Recycleable plastic, or a returns process or something else? Maybe you could return them to your pharmacy and the pharmacy can return bulk lots to the company? Not sure what the company would do then… could they sterilise and reuse them somehow? Maybe they could sell the pressurised inserts separately and you could keep the outside inhaler part and just insert the drug when you fill a new prescription?

    • Yes, I didn’t realise until last week that I can put empty aerosol cans into my regular recycling bin. I got rather excited about that. So I figure the empty aerosol parts of the puffers can go in the recycling. Thanks for backing up my supposition. 🙂

      Doesn’t solve the problem of the plastic outside part though… but I’m hopeful that we’ll end up with reusable ones or something, now that I know someone is working on it!

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