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What To Do With Your Used Diabetes Supplies: Managing Diabetes Sustainably

From reducing single-use plastics to supporting companies that prioritize sustainability, there are many ways we can make a difference. Celebrate Earth Day by taking a closer look at how to reduce your environmental impact while still managing diabetes effectively.

One of the biggest environmental concerns in diabetes care is single-use plastic.

Many of the products that people with diabetes use every day – including insulin pens, glucose test strips, and syringes – are made of plastic. To keep things safe and sanitary, these products are designed to be used once and then discarded. 

Continuous glucose monitors (CGMs) and insulin pumps are often packaged in individual plastic containers, which also contributes to environmental waste. And with millions of people in the U.S. using these tools for diabetes management, packaging can add up quickly. 

While the cardboard packing products and devices come in can easily be recycled, a lot of plastic bits and pieces end up in the trash, contributing to the growing problem of plastic waste in our landfills and oceans.

What companies are doing to reduce waste

To reduce the environmental impact of diabetes management, companies are exploring more sustainable materials for packaging. For example, the Dexcom G7 packaging uses significantly less plastic than the G6.

In addition, device manufacturers like Abbott are now offering recycling programs for their products to reduce the amount of waste sent to landfills. For unused diabetes supplies, you can donate them to organizations like Insulin For Life. Make sure to check expiration dates before donating as expired products aren't accepted.

What you can do to reduce waste

Recycling can be confusing, especially when it comes to medical waste. What goes in the regular trash and what goes in the recycling bin? 

Here are some actionable tips people with diabetes can make to cut down on waste:

  • Know what to recycle: While it's true that the majority of diabetes supplies cannot be recycled as it's considered medical waste, there are some things you can recycle. Cardboard or plastic packing, test strips, infusion set boxes, plastic needle caps, and any paper instructions can all be recycled.

  • Buy in bulk: Whatever your go-to snacks are for treating low blood sugar, try buying them in bulk. You can portion them into reusable containers at home to keep them fresh.

  • Switch to reusable insulin pens: Instead of using disposable insulin pens, consider switching to a reusable pen that can be refilled with insulin cartridges. This can help reduce the amount of plastic waste generated by insulin pens.

  • Dispose of your diabetes supplies properly: When disposing of your diabetes supplies, make sure to follow the proper guidelines for your area. Some communities have specific guidelines to properly dispose of medical waste, including sharps containers for needles and lancets. Proper disposal of diabetes supplies, such as lancets, needles, and insulin pens, can prevent them from ending up in landfills or polluting the environment. There are also sharps disposal programs available where you can mail back used sharps free of charge for injectable medications like Ozempic.

  • Choose eco-friendly diabetes products: Some companies are starting to offer more sustainable diabetes products, such as glucose test strips made from paper rather than plastic. Look for these products (and the recycling logo on packages) when shopping for diabetes supplies.

  • Recycle electronics: If you're wondering what to do with old diabetes devices like a CGM or insulin pump, take them to an electronic waste center near you. These e-waste facilities recycle old electronics and prepare them to be used again in new products.

The bottom line

Many diabetes supplies, unfortunately, are not recyclable, but people are working hard to change that. By supporting companies that are taking steps to reduce their environmental impact, we can help drive change in the diabetes care industry. We can also make changes in our own lives to reduce plastic waste and manage our diabetes sustainably.