Karnataka is said to generate a whopping 82 tonnes of biomedical waste each day that includes expired, spurious and substandard drugs, and pills, syringes and syrups.
According to the Biomedical Rules 2016, expired or discarded medicines, which include pharmaceutical waste such as antibiotics, cytotoxic drugs and contaminated items (glass or plastic ampoules, among other things) have to be returned to the manufacturer or supplier for incineration or sent to a common biomedical waste treatment facility.
But in reality, they are dumped in drains and water bodies. Discarded medicines that do make it to a scientific disposal facility reach one of three centres in Bengaluru (Kanakapura Road, Hosakote, Dobbaspet), where they are incinerated. B. Ramanath Rai, Minister for Forest, Environment and Ecology, said three more centres will come up in Kolar, Chikkaballapur and Bengaluru Rural.
However, even the Karnataka State Pollution Control Board (KSPCB) admits that they are not enough.
Extent of the problem
It was during an inspection of hospitals around the State that the KPSCB realised the extent of the problem. This is why the board has roped in an external agency to help streamline the process.
As many as 1,000 kg of discarded medicine was collected by the agency in less than four days, said KSPCB Chairman Lakshman.
Shashi Mohan, MD and CEO of Satva Health Solutions Pvt. Ltd., the agency authorised to collect and dispose discarded medicines, said they found, upon interviewing around 1,000 pharmacy outlets in Karnataka, that on an average non-refundable drugs worth Rs. 2,000 expire every month. There are approximately 27,000 pharmacy outlets in Karnataka. What they intend to do is collect discarded medicine, transport to a destruction unit and document the process at a cost of Rs. 1,200 per annum from each outlet. In addition, they also want to explore the possibility of recycling packaging material such as glass, plastic, aluminium and copper, which could be used to manufacture fertilizers and pesticides. At present, such material is being burnt along with the drugs.