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How to Reduce and Recycle Type 1 Diabetes-Related Waste

While sorting domestic waste has become a common task, it can still be hard to know how to dispose of waste generated every day by the treatment of type 1 diabetes (T1D), including waste generated by insulin administration and blood sugar measurement.

While new treatments and technologies keep appearing on the market, the companies that produce them seem to be making little effort to make it easier to recycle the large amounts of waste they produce (e.g., disposable insulin pens, non-recyclable sensor installation devices).

In the face of an ever-pressing climate and environmental crisis, people with T1D may become concerned with reducing or sorting waste generated by their diabetes treatment.

How should I dispose of T1D waste?

Sorting waste contributes to preserving the environment and its resources, which is why proper disposal is crucial. Should you use a trash can, a recycling bin, a sharps container, a drug disposal container, or an electronics disposal bin? It can be hard to know how to properly sort and dispose of your T1D waste. Here’s a table to guide you.

Can I donate my extra supplies?

If you have extra supplies that are not expired (e.g., insulin, needles) or broken (e.g., insulin pump), you may be tempted to give them away instead of throwing them out. But you should know that, legally speaking, you cannot give something that was prescribed to you to someone else.

Also, there are no organizations or associations in Quebec that specialize in collecting and donating diabetes-related supplies. 

However, there are networks of people with diabetes on social media (e.g., Diabète Type 1 • Franco • Québec et Canada) that offer you the ability to tell other people about things that you want to donate.

Can I reduce the waste that I generate?

Since your T1D treatment is essential for maintaining your health and there are no alternatives with a smaller environmental impact, it’s difficult to find ways to reduce the medical waste that you generate. But here are some strategies that could help you:

  • Use alcohol swabs only when needed. Outside of healthcare settings (e.g., hospital, clinic), there’s no need to disinfect your skin with alcohol swabs before injecting your insulin or pricking your fingertip. When measuring your capillary blood sugar, simply washing your hands with soap and water is enough. However, when installing a sensor or catheter (or pod), you need to disinfect your skin with alcohol because the device will remain in place for several days.
  • Choose reusable insulin pens. If you use disposable insulin pens or syringes, you could switch to a cartridge-style pen, which allows you to simply change the cartridge once it’s empty while keeping the same pen. This is the case for biosimilar insulins such as Admelog, Trurapi and Basaglar. Note, however, that some insulin brands are available only in a disposable pen (e.g., Tresiba, Toujeo). Ask your healthcare team or pharmacist for more information.
  • Refuse free products from companies if you don’t need them (e.g., capillary blood sugar meter). Having just one functional meter is often enough.
  • Do your research. Before you purchase a device, you could inquire with the company or with other users about its environmental impact (e.g., recyclable or not, amount of waste produced). Of course, you should choose your device based on your preferences and health condition before anything else. But if you’re hesitating between several devices, the environmental aspect may play a role in your decision. For instance, knowing that the Tandem and Medtronic 770G insulin pumps get updated every time a new version is available can be an interesting solution to benefit from all the latest improvements without changing your pump. In addition, using your cell phone whenever possible instead of a receiver sold by your CGM company (e.g., Dexcom, FreeStyle Libre) can limit the number of devices used and reduce their environmental impact. 

Sorting or reducing waste can represent an additional burden for people with T1D, who may feel powerless due to a lack of resources and lack of alternatives. 

However, the brunt of this work should be done by companies that manufacture T1D-related drugs and supplies. They should be more transparent about waste management, work to reduce waste, and propose more recycling options. To encourage this change, consumers can get in touch with the companies that make their supplies and let them know how they feel (e.g., mentioning the problem of over-packaging, encouraging the reuse of supplies such as CGM insertion devices or infusion sets).

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