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Type 1 Diabetes and the Environmental Impact

When you google diabetes and the environmental, the first search results that comes up are regarding how climate change impacts on the development of diabetes. Whilst this is important to consider, what I want to discuss is how having type 1 diabetes impacts on the environment.

Alyssa at a climate protest

I use diabetes technology to self-manage my type 1 diabetes. This means that every 3 days I change an infusion set for my insulin pump, and every 10 days I change my CGM (continuous glucose monitor). For a visual representation of what this looks like, here are a couple of videos of a set and sensor change. Each piece of equipment I use to manage my diabetes comes as single use plastic, comes in a disposable form that must be thrown away and is not able to be recycled. I don’t like that this is the system; however, I have no choice as there are no options that are environmentally friendly, I am at the mercy of the pharmaceutical companies that develop and sell the technology.

Climate action isn’t just an issue of individual responsibility. As Greta Thunberg said: “I want you to act as you would in a crisis. I want you to act as if our house is on fire. Because it is.” Our world is burning, and I believe that it is the responsibility of everyone to put climate action over profit, and this includes large pharmaceutical companies. Pharma are forcing individuals to choose: 1. The more environmentally friendly choice of multiple daily injections, with less plastic waste, but worse overall diabetes control. 2. Using diabetes technology, with a lot more plastic waste, but better overall diabetes control. People with diabetes are essentially being forced to increase their carbon footprint slightly.

Last October, I approached a major diabetes pharmaceutical company about this issue. They previously had a reusable insertor for their CGM (Continuous Glucose Monitor), however had just released a new CGM that has a disposable insertor, thus making more of an environmental impact via single-use plastic. I asked about this, and asked if they were developing a more environmentally friendly design, for example with recyclable plastic, with less single-use plastic or with a reusable design. I was told that the company were taking steps to offset their environmental impact, but that this model was industry standard. The rep had no other answers about the impact they were having on our planet, which in my opinion should be one of the main considerations when developing new products. Rather than changing their design, they had chosen to make more money at the expense of the environment, then take steps after the fact to ‘balance’ their impact.

I am unsure of the true impact of the environmental impact. I know many of the major diabetes companies have plans to lower their overall carbon emissions, but are there environmental considerations when designing new products? Have people with diabetes been consulted in the designing of products, to ensure that what is important to them is considered? Given the severity of climate change, climate action needs to be considered at all levels, but especially in major companies with big impact, and I am worried that they are putting profit over climate action. What will it take for companies to take this issue seriously?

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