Illuminating pharmaceutical waste in the environment

Sewage Treatment Plant

Pharmaceuticals are designed to have a biological effect. While not very biodegradable, they are water-soluble. This has resulted in pharmaceutical residues being found in the environment and in waters in almost all parts of the world. It is likely that these residues pose a danger to both ecosystems and people as substances can alter the behavior of organisms in ecosystems, bio-accumulate and potentially increase antibiotic resistance.

There are many ways to reduce the release of pharmaceuticals to water. These include using procurement as a policy instrument, increasing the biodegradability of drugs, changing the behavior of doctors and the reducing patient and consumer use, and also by implementing better technologies at municipal sewage treatment plants.

In 2014-2016, Swedish Water House formed a network of actors with broad expertise within the area. Through the joint communication of priorities to key actors and, as required, the deepening of knowledge in specific areas, the group aimed to reduce the presence of pharmaceuticals in water.

The aim of the network was to develop and provide relevant stakeholders with concrete recommendations for how they can contribute to reducing remnants of drugs to water. Key players include industry, procurers in the public sector, government agencies, counties, municipalities, pharmacies, medical associations and doctors, the wastewater sector and consumers. The recommendations was published in a Working Paper and Policy Brief (see below) which was presented at the closing conference “Water and Pharmaceuticals – insights and perspectives for health and environment”, 12-13 April 2016 in Uppsala.

The network also aimed to develop proposals for follow-up projects based on the project’s recommendations and other ongoing processes and existing knowledge – a process that is on-going.

Would you like to join the conversation about water and pharmaceuticals? Don’t hesitate to get in touch with Nicolai Schaaf.


Apotek Hjärtat

Fresenius Kabi

Stockholm County Council

IVL Swedish Environmental Research Institute

The Käppala Association

Uppsala University Hospital

Uppsala County Council

The Swedish Water & Wastewater Association

IKEM – Innovation and Chemical Industries

LIF – The research-based pharmaceutical industry

Policy Brief

Download the Policy Brief

Working Paper

Download the Working Paper

Reference group

Our network also has had a reference group consisting of authorities, ministries and other actors: The National Agency for Public Procurement, Swedish Environmental Protection Agency, Medical Products Agency, Ministry of the Environment and Energy, and Stockholm University/MistraPharma.

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