Environmental impacts of healthcare and pharmaceutical products: Influence of product design and consumer behaviour

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Healthcare and pharmaceutical products are used widely but their environmental impacts are still largely unknown. This paper provides an insight into the influence of product design and consumer behaviour on the environmental impacts of the use and end-of-life of some healthcare and pharmaceutical products, with the aim of identifying improvement opportunities. The influence of product design is assessed through two types of asthma inhaler: hydrofluoroalkane (HFA) and dry-powder devices. Consumer behaviour is examined by considering the use of toothpaste and consumption of nutritional drinks. The results indicate that the use and end-of-life stages contribute significantly (∼90%) to the carbon footprint of HFA inhalers, estimated at 26.9 kg CO2/100 doses. The carbon footprint of dry-powder inhalers is 10 times smaller (2.7 kg CO2/100 doses). Product design innovations to eliminate HFA propellants could save over 13 Mt CO2 eq./y globally. The use stage is also the main hotspot for most other environmental impacts across the products considered in the study. The contribution of end-of-life stage is significant for eutrophication and some toxicity-related impacts for inhalers and toothpaste. The impacts of toothpaste and nutritional drinks are highly influenced by consumer behaviour during the use stage. For example, using cold instead of warm water for teeth brushing and a tumbler instead of leaving the tap running would reduce the carbon footprint from the use of toothpaste by 57 times and water consumption by 20 times. These findings highlight that both design innovations and changes in consumer behaviour play a significant role in addressing global environmental challenges. Therefore, in addition to environmental improvements through product development and supply change management, healthcare companies should also focus on providing consumer guidance to help lower the environmental impacts of their products.
Original languageEnglish
Article number119860
Pages (from-to)1-12
Number of pages12
JournalJournal of Cleaner Production
Early online date27 Dec 2019
Publication statusPublished - 2020


  • consumer behaviour
  • life cycle assessment
  • malted drink
  • inhalers
  • product design
  • toothpaste


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