Is your life-saving inhaler killing the planet? NYT thinks so

Originally published at:


While it is absolutely true that the amount of waste of all sorts generated in medicine is staggering, one needs to consider the alternative before demonizing. Reusing a lot of this stuff is not just gross, it is flatly unsafe. The energy needed for autoclaving instruments is not trivial, and some infectious agents, such as prions, can survive even that. The things we can do in medicine today inevitably generate a lot of leftover crud. Trying to find ways to do better is important, but attacking, even indirectly, folks who would quite literally die without it is irresponsible. This is a very tiny step away from disability shaming folks who need these things as “the world would be better off if you just died already.” Not OK, not a fan.


Image used is of an epipen, that would provide quite the surprise if you tried to inhale it.


The New York Times should just fire its headline writers en masse.


And if the NYT or anyone else wants to go after single-use plastic waste, try starting with an attempt to shame consumers for all the unnecessary plastic shit they thoughtlessly consume and throw away, not with shaming people actually needing critical medical devices, FFS!


They’d just replace it with an AI, and get even worse results. /sarcasm

This. I have a handful of (badly fitting) masks for my CPAP machine that I can’t use, sell or give away, so that’s all just plastic that’s going to the trash pile.
I was (still am, actually) flabbergasted with the lack of a single common fitting for BGM test strips- each vendor has their own flavor, and sometimes it’s model specific (i.e. the strips for the ‘Acu-test 100’ won’t work on the ‘Acu-test 5000’ because money)

I’ve long since stopped reading the NYT, mostly because I don’t like the spin they put on everything.


Yes, the main headline sounds bad. The subtitle, though, isn’t.

For eco-conscious consumers of personal medical devices, recycling options are limited. Some companies are trying to change that.

The article itself is about something I think is good. A retired biomedical engineer, who is also a type 1 diabetic, is trying to make epi-pens and similar devices recyclable, which they currently aren’t. Not reusable, but recyclable. The main headline sucks, but the article is actually pretty good, and seems to be a good thing someone is trying to do.


“Effete”, like “(of a man) behaving in a way traditionally associated with women and regarded as inappropriate for a man.”?


Just read the articles and try to ignore the headlines. Is that so hard?

As far as calculating a net-bad, I’m pretty sure the pollution I create working so I can pay for my epipen quite possibly outweighs the pollution of the epipen itself.


More in the sense of the second definition here.


Well, if the engineers and biomedical device companies profiled in the long and fairly interesting article succeed in their mission, Pharmaceutical companies will be able to obtain patents on the new packaging, and enjoy heathy greener profits.


This is dumb. Of all the things to fucking worry about being made of plastic, when water and soda bottles are probably the #1 thing we could get rid of today to reduce plastic waste.


Patents are the wrong vehicle here. Patents are merely a license to monetize and exclude other from these innovations. Standards is where the greater good lie.

(The patents and empty delivery vessel supply chain should be originated and owned by FDA and made available under FRAND condititions, not counting the existing fees charged to the pharmaceutical industry.)


The mother jones article noted that

THE FINANCIAL PAYOFF Many of the patents for the new inhalers won’t expire for another six years, so there likely won’t be any generics until then, unless the patents are challenged in court. The switch to the new inhalers will cost American consumers, insurance companies, and the government some $8 billion by 2017, according to FDA estimates. That’s money in the drug companies’ pockets. In 2007, a top market-research firm alerted investors that the US inhaler market “will soon change from low-value to significant.” Sure enough, at nearly $1 billion a year, sales of the market-leading inhaler, ProAir, now rival Viagra’s.

But it was written in 2011, so the relevant patent extensions are by now quite possibly a moot point. However, I have reason to think that the cynicism remains.


Shaming people over inhalers and epipens seems like a crazy hill to die on. But then again this is the NYT :roll_eyes:


I’m still a little paranoid about the nitrile gloves I buy after all the reports of gloves being “recycled” during the pandemic.

Especially when there a solution that pre-existed plastic bottles in the first place. Of course, people would lose their minds that their Pepsi went up 5% due to added shipping costs.

A glass epi-pen on the other hand? Not a great idea.


A version of this article appears in print on Feb. 27, 2024, Section D, Page 1 of the New York edition with the headline: Medical Devices: A Plastic Problem.

Simple, effective, but maybe it doesn’t attract emotionally motivated readers.


As opposed to shaming, the headline comes across as rage-baity to me. It’s not far off “Tree huggers are coming for your inhalers.”

ETA - Or they think folks on the right will feel rage, while the left will feel shame. Everyone loses!


why can’t they follow the lead of the insulin manufacturers?

Novo Nordisk alone manufactured 750 million insulin pens in 2021, made of more than 28 million pounds of plastic. The pens include a glass vial in a plastic frame, and are not designed to be disassembled into parts for the purpose of recycling. Nearly all are believed to end up in the household trash.

One of the engineering problems is that complex packages like these aren’t recyclable, unless they can be easily disassembled and separated into their components

Dr. Brandell, of Oregon City, has been trying to do something about the discarded devices. A biomedical engineer, he spent his career developing pacemakers, defibrillators and catheters. Semi-retired in 2021, he worked with a partner to design a hand-held gadget that neatly cuts the insulin pens so that they can be taken apart. It also works on the plastic dispensers for Ozempic, the diabetes drug that millions of people are now taking for weight loss.