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Medicine blister pack recycling across the Vale of York!

Like many people, my bathroom shelves creak under the weight of boxes of tablets, lotions and potions, all designed to help ward off illness and treat minor injuries and cuts and scrapes; basically just the usual series of events that take place every morning before attempting to herd people out of the house. My forays into eco-friendly living have meant I now scrutinise every healthcare and toiletry purchase, looking for items that have the simplest packaging and the lowest transport footprint. I try to avoid those film sheaths that often bind multi-packs together. Gross. There’s a handy app called Ethy which can scan barcodes to tell you about the climate-friendly status of a product. That is, if you're able to coordinate it alongside your quick-scan app without dropping your phone into the supermarket freezer. I may or may not have that particular T-shirt.

Unfortunately medicine packaging hasn’t moved much in my table of environmental excellence over the past few years. Clearly it has to be robust, withstand temperature changes and inquisitive little hands and paws, and protect its important contents. The majority of tablets come in a plastic/foil ‘blister pack’ strip, and there are usually two or more of these strips in a cardboard box, wrapped in a leaflet that’s always at the end of the packet you decide to open (how do they know?!). We’re lucky that these used boxes and leaflets can go in our kerbside recycling (click here for a light-hearted overview of where to put various pieces of medication packaging), but until recently, there has been no way to repurpose or recycle the blister packs. And despite repeated petitioning, manufacturers have not yet developed a reusable pathway for them. So if you share my tenacious views on 'producer responsibility' and feel that communities and small businesses (like independent pharmacies, vets, and GP surgeries) should not be paying for waste created by massive corporations, join me in moment of armchair activism by signing this petition.

While we wait for Westminster to complete #[insert latest scandal]gate and help with such legislative change, there's also have the problem of all the blister packs that are floating about right now. They're often put in kerbside recycling and they really shouldn't be; they’re a complex mix of foil and plastic that can only be broken down by a few niche recycling hubs and we’re lucky to have one close by in Hull: ReFactory. With generous funding from the Yorkshire & Humber Academic Health Sciences Network we’ve just started to kit out over 20 sites across the Vale of York with special recycling boxes for these empty blister packs, which, as a city-wide roll-out is a UK-first. There are boxes in the city centre and in some of our more rural villages. Similar boxes already existed in some Superdrug pharmacies around the UK, but we didn't have any here in York and patients were asking what to do with their empties. So we were determined to make this accessible to all patients locally, and are delighted to have this opportunity.

The recycling boxes shown here can only be used for empty blister packs. Any unused or unwanted medicines should be returned to the pharmacy they came from (this includes inhalers and liquids – neither of which can go in these boxes, even when empty), and as always, if you're struggling to take your medication because of side effects or concerns please speak to your Pharmacist or GP Surgery. We’re grateful for the support of all our amazing sites and for the publicity from BBC Radio York and the York Press. The precise locations of recycling boxes changes depending on footfall and how quickly they fill, and a few of our sites have now filled their entire quota and therefore are no longer participating (these are highlighted in grey below):

Dalton Terrace

Elvington Medical Practice

Front Street Surgery (Acomb & Copmanthorpe)

Haxby Surgery (Haxby, Huntington, New Earswick & Poppleton)

Jorvik Gillygate (Woolpack House, East Parade & Southbank)

MyHealth (Stamford Bridge)

Nimbuscare Health Centre (Acomb Garth)

Priory Medical Group (Fulford, Heworth Green & Tang Hall Lane)

Pocklington Practice

Old School Medical Practice (Copmanthorpe & Bishopthorpe)

Tesco Pharmacy Clifton Moor

Unity Health (Kimberlow Hill)

Whitworth’s Chemist (Melrosegate)

York Medical Group (Water Lane & Tower Court)

...and anyone reading this who has a local business and would like to sponsor a box, please get in touch!

Update April 2024: we are now down to our final TWO boxes, therefore you may find your local Practice has filled their quota from our funded project (they will be greyed out in the list above). There are still options:

1 - Individual practices, shops, or other organisations can purchase boxes themselves at

2 - Old School Medical Practice (Copmanthorpe) has 2 boxes left and anyone is welcome to take their blister packs there.

3 - Boots are rolling our their own blister pack recycling scheme, starting in London but hopefully moving further across the UK, and even as far afield as Yorkshire one day... ^sighs wistfully^. This is for deposits of 15 strips each time, and then you get points to spend in store in exchange. And we all know points mean prizes, right?! Please pop into your local Boots and use/ask about/show interest in the scheme and this may help chivvy them on!

And finally, thanks to everyone who's participated in the scheme! Please write to your MP to push for legislation that ensures packaging manufacturers fund these recycling boxes in the future (rather than NHS money being used) as well as altering the deign in the first place to make them 100% reusable.

Keep watching this space for more recycling options which I am working on...

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