Interview with José Antonio Aedo Sordo, Director General of SINGREM
Q: What was behind the decision of CANIFARMA to create SINGREM in 2008?
A: The law states that manufacturers, distributors, and sellers of motor oil, batteries, and cooking oil are responsible for managing hazardous waste. In the case of medicines, pharmaceutical companies are obliged to destroy the drugs used by households. The obligation of the companies does not end when they sell the products; they have to handle expired medicines the day after the expiration date. For these reasons, CANIFARMA decided to create the National Waste Management System for Packaging and Drugs (SINGREM) as a civil association. Our aim is to provide necessary disposal facilities to collect the product from the consumers and ensure an adequate disposal. SINGREM is thus financed by pharmaceutical companies. The pilot test for this program took place in 2008, and in 2009 more containers were established in several states. It was not until 2010 that the project began to operate at full capacity. In the beginning, we were present in four states, then established in Mexico City, and now we cover 26 states.
Q: How hazardous is medical waste compared to oil and industrial waste, and what was the pharmaceutical industry’s main concern in this respect?
A: First of all, lack of a proper disposal channel for medicines increases the likelihood of drugs ending up in the black market. This is a big problem with expired medicines because their packaging can be replaced by a counterfeit one and sold at a lower price. Secondly, medicines can generate a significant pollution problem as they reach the ground, rivers, and lakes. Hormones, analgesics, and antibiotics found in rivers are a growing problem for the US today, and proper actions have not been taken in this country until recently. We are in touch with some stakeholders in Los Angeles, who have manifested their interest in adopting a similar program like SINGREM, as waste is managed locally in the US.
Q: What are the most common products you find in your sampling results?
A: The products we find the most are analgesics and anti-inflammatories, such as aspirin and paracetamol, as well as antibiotics and products for diabetes like metformin. Unfortunately, only 100 of 200 pharmaceutical companies are attached to this plan, so we are practically collecting waste for those which are not involved in the program yet. We are continuously inviting them to join SINGREM. Sometimes the companies that are not part of CANIFARMA believe they cannot be part of SINGREM, but this is incorrect. We serve companies like Procter & Gamble, which is not part of CANIFARMA but belongs to the program because it sells OTC medicines. It is difficult to change this mindset because the law is not specific and the penalties are still being decided. What we find in our containers is usually related to the size of the producer; however, we are increasingly detecting generic medicines. Part of the work that we have to do is convincing producers with data and reasonable arguments to join SINGREM, and we hope to attract the membership of these companies next year. At this point, 15 of the top 20 largest pharmaceutical companies are already in the program.
Q: To what extent can waste disposal management be part of the value proposition of companies as a social responsibility activity?
A: European and American companies in particular are more prone to joining us as they are usually extremely responsible when it comes to complying with global regulations requiring them to implement waste disposal programs, which is also enforced by their headquarters. Local companies such as Liomont, Sanfer, Hormona, Psicofarma, and Chinoin, just to mention some, are attached to program as well, while generic producers are still not incorporated into the program. Given that generics represent more than a half of the volume we collect, the situation is becoming more serious. As SINGREM is authorized by SEMARNAT, we provide the companies with a certificate showing it is a responsible company and that it is attached to a plan dedicated to handling waste from households. Companies’ contribution to the our budget is calculated depending on their sales three years ago considering that expiration dates usually last such time. We always protect the sensitive information with confidentiality agreements and contracts.
Q: How many tons of medical waste do you collect a month, and what is the amount of medicines being thrown away incorrectly?
A: We collect about 40 to 45 tons a month. There is no data of the amount of medicines being thrown away through improper channels. In theory, blisters and bottles are fully consumed most of the time and just a small fraction expires before being utilized. In Spain, a program like ours has been operating for 15 years, and they have a container in every pharmacy in the country collecting about 2,000 tons per year. Considering the size of its population, which is half of that of Mexico, we expect to collect that amount when we cover the whole country, and we will close 2015 collecting 500 tons of medicine waste, which is perhaps 25% of our potential.
Q: Do you support any programs aimed at raising awareness on the right way to dispose of pharmaceutical waste?
A: We carry out a lot of public relation activities, for instance going to TV shows and speaking to newspapers to promote this. However, the budget we receive now is allocated to buying more containers and expanding our structure. Once we achieve the total expansion, we can allocate our funds to awareness programs. Today, most of the northern states, such as Chihuahua, Sonora, and Tamaulipas are not covered yet, while the city of Monterrey has been included this year. In addition, we have to build our structure slowly, and with a powerful campaign I believe we can collect 1,000 tons within one year (not week). At this point we do not have the capabilities or infrastructure to handle those figures. In 2008 we collected eight tons, and this year we are going to be close to 500.
Q: To what extent has SINGREM helped authorities to keep the black market under control?
A: Two years ago, we collected almost 150 tonnes of confiscated products from COFEPRIS in Guadalajara. In Toluca, we received 10 tonnes of confiscated miracle and pharmaceutical products from the government of the State of Mexico, and sent them for destruction. We are collaborating hand in hand with state governments, and now people are more aware of the dangers of throwing medicines in the garbage bin.
Q: What is next in your expansion strategy?
A: The next state we are covering is Chiapas, and subsequently Tabasco. Northern cities will be covered in the medium term because they are far from each other increasing our transportation costs. We are already in Tijuana, where several destruction companies are based, but it is still difficult to cover La Paz and Los Cabos – the largest cities in Baja California Sur. Other states such as Tamaulipas still have safety issues, so we will expand to Chihuahua and Sonora first. We are also planning to have more containers in retail stores and pharmacy chains.
This is an extract of an interview to be featured in Mexico Health Review 2016. For more information please visit http://mexicohealthreview.com.