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Earth Month

The University Pharmacy has switched to biodegradable prescription bottles

A Pitt-branded prescription bottle

With nearly 5 billion prescriptions filled each year at community pharmacies across the United States, prescription bottles typically generate a lot of plastic waste.

At Pitt, the University Pharmacy recently made a shift to be a better contributor to the health of the planet by using biodegradable vials for all its prescriptions.

“We have had patients frequently ask us how they can recycle their vials, and sadly we have to say that you cannot,” says Michelle Covone, University Pharmacy director.

Traditional orange prescription vials are typically #5 plastic and cannot be recycled. The University Pharmacy’s new green vials contain an organic additive that allows the container to biodegrade by 50% in 1.5 years in the right environment. They are also nontoxic and BPA-free.

The move fits in nicely with Pitt’s larger sustainability efforts, including the creation of an Office for Sustainability in Pitt Health Sciences.

When announcing the new office in November 2023, Anantha Shekhar, senior vice chancellor for the health sciences and John and Gertrude Petersen Dean of the School of Medicine, said, “Given that health care and associated research are responsible for approximately 10% of U.S. greenhouse gas emissions and represent the second-largest industry contributing to landfill waste worldwide,” it’s imperative to “increase education, awareness and implementation of environmentally sustainable measures across all our mission areas.”

With climate issues being a high priority for many students, the biodegradable bottles are already getting a warm welcome.

“We started looking at options a few years ago, and these are the first ones that we really liked,” says Covone, who led the transition. The vials and caps are made in the United States and designed to meet the needs of independent pharmacies, which are different from the needs of chain stores. The supplier, a family-owned Ohio-based company, was also able to customize the caps with a Pitt-branded logo. Unlike the vials, the caps are not biodegradable, and patient labels should always be removed before throwing away any vials.

“Michelle has done an amazing job bringing new ideas to the pharmacy,” says Patrick Pugliese, former director of pharmacy at the University Pharmacy, who stepped into a part-time role in summer 2023.

Pugliese and Covone have worked as part of the Hub team from the beginning of the pandemic to ensure that vaccines were accessible for everyone. Thanks in large part to their efforts, the University Pharmacy was one of the first independent pharmacies in Pennsylvania to receive a supply of COVID-19 vaccines in early 2021 and served as a center to support other independently owned pharmacies in the area during that critical time.

The University Pharmacy is the clinical home of the Hub, offering access to a broad range of vaccines, supplies and services and affording greater access to both common and harder-to-find vaccinations for anyone in Oakland and surrounding communities.

The University Pharmacy is a community pharmacy, and everyone is welcome to stop in to learn more about the services and meet the team.


— Micaela Corn, photography by University Pharmacy