Solvent Recovery Solutions for the Pharmaceutical Industry


Global Program Manager, Veolia North America
“Any company that generates hazardous waste wants to reduce its waste and limit its long term liability by reclaiming, recycling and reusing any way they can. Recovery is also a more sustainable, green, and cost effective solution than disposal. We work with our customers to move materials out of the traditional disposal methods, including incineration and fuels blending, and into other types of treatment that result in reclamation or a direct reuse as a byproduct.

“In the pharmaceutical industry, we’re having the most impact in the high value solvent area. We’re targeting solvents that are more expensive to procure on the virgin market and looking to reclaim and resell that material in a secondary chemical market. We’re also utilizing a toll process where we take it to our facility, convert it to the virgin specifications and put it back into the original process.”


“Solvents that we’re typically considering are methylene chloride, THF, and NMP. We’re also looking at lower value solvents right now, such as isopropyl alcohol. Most of the chemicals used in pharmaceutical production include some type of solvent based chemistry, so it’s a good target for us.

“These solvents are often used as a carrier, and in some cases it could be part of the reaction process. The properties are very good for the manufacturing process because of the volatile nature of solvents. For instance, in a tablet coating process that we’re taking solvents from right now, they’re using acetone, which is a very volatile material that leaves no residue in the final product. They’re able to use that material as a carrier for the active pharmaceutical ingredient. It is essentially evaporated off, condensed and captured as acetone. The solvent may be part of the reaction process, in which case another solvent or variation of a solvent may emerge in the process.”


“The difference is In the past pharmaceutical plants haven’t been particularly concerned with capturing or segregating solvent streams to capitalize on their value. They were more worried about the production process and less concerned with how they collected waste. Frequently, they’re collecting waste in large tank farms, and then it’s all mixed together.
“The way the plants are piped and the collection process is set up sometimes makes it difficult to get materials into a form that can be readily reclaimed or resold. We often work with the engineering groups and the plant’s employees to figure out ways to segregate material. In some cases it requires a capital project on their end, doing things like re-piping an area. Working with them to identify the form that makes it more valuable can be a very difficult process.”


"The primary catalyst to finding a more sustainable solution is usually the challenge of reducing the overall cost of manufacturing. One of the major regulatory changes that has helped this quest is the adoption of the Hazardous Secondary Materials (HSM) regulations on the state level. New Jersey and Puerto Rico have both adopted the regulations and house a number of pharmaceutical plants.
“In the past when we moved materials for recycling, it was still considered a RCRA hazardous waste activity. Because of HSM it is not considered hazardous waste under RCRA and is not counted toward hazardous waste production. It’s certainly been helpful in encouraging recycling.”


“Veolia services the pharmaceutical industry with our full portfolio of services. We do everything from on-site services to lab packing, standard waste disposal, low-level radioactive waste management and reactive chemical management.
“Secure destruction for packaged products that are out of spec or expired has been an important area for the pharmaceutical industry. They want to make sure that these goods do not get into the wrong hands or end up on the black market. We assure that these products are disposed of in a secure manner.
“One of Veolia’s largest groups of customers is the pharmaceutical industry. We can manage any type of waste management activity, including specialized waste. Traditionally, the pharmaceutical industry has outsourced these activities, so we have developed a meticulous methodology for their services.”



Byproduct Recovery

Lab Chemical