Now, a report from Wisconsin underscores why governments, which hope to reduce contaminants in drinking water and lower the threat of drug abuse stemming from unused pills that linger in medicine chests, want to tap drugmakers to help pay for disposal efforts. Just 2 percent of unused household medicines was collected in the state in 2011 and the estimated cost of take-back programs ranged from $8.05 to $10.07 per pound. By comparison, programs in Canada and France, where drugmakers provide funding, average $3.50 per pound and $0.23 per pound, respectively.
The report notes that collection programs have been "constrained by a lack of consistent and sustainable funding. The burden falls on goverment and taxpayers with many programs relying on goverment grants, private donations and in-kind contributions." One county, for instance, received state grants in 2010 and 2012, but not in 2011, which meant a collection event was not held that year. Including the value of donations and volunteer labor, the total cost of one-day municipal take-back programs in Wisconsin were $362,200 in 2010 and $371,600 in 2011.
The newly released report cites several reasons for the low collection rate besides high costs and insufficient funding. These include consumer inconvenience, low public awareness and inadequate program promotion. And in Wisconsin, there is limited capacity for destroying unwanted and unused pharmaceuticals, which also contributes to high program costs. But one implied take-away message emerges: there is a funding gap and industry dollars could help.
"Two percent is better than zero, but I don’t think anyone would say that's an effective rate," Brad Wolbert, the recycling and solid waste section chief in the state Departament of Natural Resources, tells us. "I think if you look at the experiences in other countries, you might draw that conclusion (that industry funding is useful, if not necessary). But I won’t say it's the only way. The report wasn't designed to make these kinds of specific recommendation." But the report does recommend several steps that include "securing consistent funding from a reliable source." Among the other suggestions: creating a "dense network" of waste drop-off locations that provide free and easy access to citizens; widely promote the collections; monitor and evaluate waste generation and collection rates; and adopt regulatory changes to facilitate transportation and to reduce collection and disposal costs (here is the Wisconsin report).
"Clearly, (industry funding) has been part of the discussion in Wisconsin. Law enforcement agencies, such as DEA, that do twice-a-year disposal program have been a big asset," Steve Brachman, a waste reduction specialist at the University of Wisconsin Cooperative Extension and a co-author of the report, tells us. "But folks are starting to struggle to pay for this activity. So that's certiainly a possiblity. I would expect some kind of partnership system. It would cetainly be nice if the pharmcauitlay industry stepped in."
Funding problems are not going to disappear, of course. Whether Wisconsin attempts to adopt legislation that would require industry funding is uncertain. Wolbert says there "has been some talk" among members of the state legislature to consider legislation and the report is likely to jumpstart discussion, but he is not aware of any specific effort at this point.
This helps explain why the move by Alameda County, where officials estimated disposal costs run about $330,000 annually, is being closely watched by other local governments around the country. The ordinance that was adopted was the first of its kind in the US and the pharmaceutical industry unsuccessfully lobbied against passage, claiming the cost of compliance would be prohibitively expensive.
As we wrote previously, drugmakers are upset the ordinance forbids them from imposing any local point-of-sale fee to recoup the costs of the program, which they maintain violates the dormant commerce clause in the US Constitution. By allegedly “off-loading” the expense, they argue their customers from around the country will be forced to absorb the costs. PhRMA made a point of noting that seniors will mostly shoulder these costs.
In a brief filed in response to the lawsuit, Alameda County officials deny they violated the law. The ordinance "does not burden interstate commerce and even if it does so, any such burden is plainly outweighed by important considerations of the health, safety and protection of the interests of the citizens of the County of Alameda and is required by conditions existing." It also "constitutes a reasonable exercise of the police power... over a matter in which the US Congress has not legislated and which does not transgress the US Constitution."
toilet pic thx to sustainable sanitation on flickr