#GiveBack Campaign Calls for Proper & Safe Medical Waste Disposal


On 15 June 2023, the second phase of the nationwide #GiveBack campaign was launched to promote responsible disposal of medical waste.

#GiveBack is a nationwide Environmental, Social and Governance (ESG) effort of GSK Malaysia in collaboration with pharmacy chains Alpro Pharmacy, AM PM Pharmacy, BIG Pharmacy, CARiNG Pharmacy Group, FirstCare Pharmacy, Health Lane Family Pharmacy, Mega Kulim Pharmacy, Park@city Pharmacy & Medical Supplies, Straits Pharmacy, and Sunway Multicare Pharmacy.

It is supported by the Malaysian Pharmacists Society (MPS).

Vice President and General Manager
GSK Malaysia & Brunei

Dr Jonathan Pan, the Vice President and General Manager of GSK Malaysia & Brunei, says. “Our #GiveBack campaign supports these goals by offering the Malaysian public a convenient way to dispose of their used inhalers and leftover medicine blister packs responsibly, lessening their impact to our environment.”

In line with this goal, the campaign expanded its partnership with additional pharmacy partners and headthcare groups this year.

  • All around the world, healthcare systems contribute around 5.9 million tonnes of solid waste to landfills and over 4% of carbon emissions.
  • One significant issue is the disposal of pressurized asthma inhalers, as people often discard them before they are completely empty. As a result, the greenhouse gases in the propellants of these discarded inhalers are released into the environment, contributing to global warming.
  • Unfinished pills left in discarded blister packaging—the “packaging” of pills—can lead to leaching of chemicals into the ground or waterways, contaminating plants and animals and, eventually, people that consume these plants and animals.
Malaysian Pharmacists Society (MPS)

Professor Amrahi Buang, President of the Malaysian Pharmacists Society (MPS) further adds, “GSK’s #GiveBack campaign is aligned with the Ministry of Health Malaysia’s ‘Returning Medicines’ campaign, and we urge all Malaysians to support this effort by bringing their used or unfinished asthma inhalers and blister packs to any of the collection points for proper disposal.”


During the launch, students from The Design School at Taylor’s University unveiled a sculpted art made of discarded blister packs and asthma inhalers.

This art serves to highlight the importance of proper medical waste disposal and its impact on the environment, while also providing an opportunity for the next generation to get involved in environmental advocacy.

The installation will be displayed during the GSK #GiveBack Roving Truck roadshow at high-traffic venues across the Klang Valley, stoking greater awareness and increased interest in sustainability.


Any time of the year
Drop off your used blister packs and asthma inhalers (make sure that they are empty) at any of the following pharmacy outlets:

  • Alpro Pharmacy
  • AM PM Pharmacy
  • BIG Pharmacy
  • CARiNG Pharmacy Group
  • FirstCare Pharmacy
  • Health Lane Family Pharmacy
  • Mega Kulim Pharmacy
  • Park@city Pharmacy & Medical Supplies
  • Straits Pharmacy
  • Sunway Multicare Pharmacy

17 to 26 June 2023
Drop them off at the #GiveBack Roving Truck roadshow.

For more information about the campaign, visit your nearby pharmacy or hospital, or drop by the The Design School @ Taylor’s University’s Instagram (link opens in a new tab).

Experts Detail the Hidden Threat of Microplastics in Our Environment


Vice Provost
Research and Knowledge Exchange
University of Nottingham Malaysia (UNM)
Head of the School of Pharmacy
University of Nottingham Malaysia (UNM)

On Earth Day, observed on 22 April and themed ‘Invest In Our Planet’, we would like to call your attention to the pressing matter of microplastic pollution.

Did you know that Malaysia is ranked third (after The Philippines and India) in the list of countries contributing most to marine plastic pollution? Dutch academic Lourens JJ Meijer highlighted these rankings in a paper published in 2021, and the position of Malaysia should be enough to cause us to reflect on our contribution to the global problem of plastic waste.


When we think of plastic waste we tend to think of plastic bottles and bags, but once these everyday items break down, they cause a more insidious threat to the environment – microplastic.

Microplastics are microscopic pieces of plastic that are often invisible to the naked eye, with the very smallest pieces being within the nano-size range (less than 1 µm, which is 0.001 mm).

In fact, some plastics are deliberately manufactured at this microscopic size range—for example, beads used in toothpaste and other personal care products, or used in industrial processes.

  • There is mounting evidence that it causes respiratory problems, especially for those with existing conditions.
  • There are also increasing reports associating inflammatory bowel disease with the presence of microplastics in stool.
  • Although there is no direct evidence to link microplastics and cancer, its presence can lead to tissue inflammation which may result in DNA damage, the initial stage of cancer development.
How microplastics can end up in our body. Click on the image for a larger, clearer version.

For the past four years, our research team from the University of Nottingham Malaysia has been looking at microplastics in the Langat River in Selangor, as well as in the bodies of animals that live in the river.

We have found microplastic particles in every one of the hundreds of river water samples we have collected, in concentrations ranging from two to more than 80 pieces per litre of water.

We have also found very high concentrations on the riverbed, with up to 150,000 pieces of microplastic sitting on the riverbed surface per square meter.

Most alarmingly, we have found microplastic in the body of almost every single animal we collected, including aquatic insects, mussels and fish. Fish were the most highly contaminated, and our latest work suggests that microplastic is not only present on the gills and in the guts of fish, but in their flesh.

This is very worrying, as it means that people who consume fish caught from our rivers are likely to be routinely ingesting microplastic. The same applies to fish caught from oceans, where microplastic contamination is also very high.


The human health risks posed by microplastics mean that urgent action is needed.

Reduce exposure to microplastics

This can be extremely challenging as microplastics are already in the air we breathe and the water we drink, and very likely in much of the food we eat.

Some good places to start:

  • Use filters on tap water
  • Avoid eating hot food or drinking hot drinks from plastic containers
  • Avoiding eating bottom feeders like shellfish and prawns 
Reduce the use of single-use plastics and hence the amount of plastics added to the environment

Removing the microplastics already present in the environment will be difficult, but we can take action to reduce how much more we add. This can only be achieved with concerted efforts on multiple fronts.

Individually we should be mindful of how much plastic we use, and especially how we dispose of it.

  • Bring our own stainless-steel containers to pack food bought from food stalls
  • Use glass or metal bottles to refill instead of buying bottled water go a long way in reducing the amount of single-use plastics that may end up in the environment.
Improve and adopt recycling habits

This needs to be supported by better waste management facilities and recycling options being made available by local councils.

Taxes or other fiscal incentives could be introduced to help reduce plastic use and increase the use of recyclable plastics.

Government funding for research to help find new ways of removing plastics and microplastics from our marine and freshwater ecosystems, and to help develop new biodegradable plastics, is greatly needed.


Malaysia has T-minus seven years to fulfil its Roadmap Towards Zero Single-use Plastics 2018-2030. Time is ticking. The attitudes and behaviours of everyone, from the authorities and industry to the public at large, need to change for the sake of both current and future generations.

Let’s all try to use less plastic between now and next year’s Earth Day.

Going Green, Baby! (Part 2)

Going Green, Baby! (Part 2)

April 29, 2022   Return


Words Lim Teck Choon

Edna Loh

Accredited Practising Dietitian (Aus)

Unicare Pharmacy (Petaling Jaya)


In Part 1, dietitian Edna Loh shared some nutritional considerations for vegetarians and vegans, focusing on protein, iron and vitamin B12. This time, she continues the discussion by shining the spotlight on vitamin D, calcium, iodine and zinc. Whether you are considering or already practising the vegetarian or vegan diet, read on to find out how you can meet your daily nutritional needs while staying true to yourself.  

Vitamin D


Vitamin D has been demonstrated through research to support calcium in the development of strong bones. It also plays a role in regulating our immune system as well as the life cycle of the cells in our body. Also, vitamin D deficiency has been linked to many health conditions, including breast cancer, colon cancer, prostate cancer and heart disease.

Therefore, it is quite worrying when Edna Loh shares that, based on studies in Asia, it is found that we Asians are generally not getting enough of this vitamin. This is the case for vegetarians as well as non-vegetarians.

Good Sources of Vitamin D

Do you know that some researchers consider vitamin D the “accidental vitamin”? This is because “vitamin” these days is defined as an essential nutrient obtained via diet, and yet, according to Edna Loh, there are very few types of foods that contain vitamin D naturally.

Sunlight. The best “source” of vitamin D remains sunlight – our skin produces the vitamin while exposed to sunlight. Not all sunlight is equal, though: exposure to the afternoon sun will yield optimal vitamin D production compared to other times of the day.

Supplements. Edna Loh shares that vitamin D supplements are typically available in two forms: vitamin D2 or vitamin D3. To date, there is no scientific evidence to suggest which one is more effective, but it has been found that vitamin D2 is less potent when taken at high doses.

Diet. This can be a tricky issue, as explained below.

The Tricky Issue

Studies have found that vitamin D from animal-based foods appears to be approximately five times more potent than other forms of vitamin D. The addition of meat (beef, pork, chicken, turkey) and eggs can increase the estimated levels of vitamin D in one’s diet by as much as two to 18 times!

For vegetarians who still include eggs and dairy products in their diet, they can still obtain their vitamin D via those foods. However, those who exclude those foods have more limited options to choose from: soy milk products and orange juice, for example.

Useful Tips for Those Who Do Not Eat Meat, Eggs and Dairy Products

  • Include fortified soy milk products and fortified orange juice into one’s daily diet.
  • Some mushrooms provide vitamin D2 in variable amounts. UV-treated mushrooms, especially, have enhanced vitamin D content.
  • Some researchers recommend exposing the face, arms, legs or back (without using sunscreen) to sunlight between 10 am to 3 pm, at least two times a week.
  • One can also consider using commercial tanning beds that emit 2%–6% UVB radiation.


If we are going to list down every important role that calcium plays when it comes to our health and body functions, this article will need a few dozen more pages! Its most notable role is in the building and maintenance of healthy bones and teeth – 99% of our bones and teeth are made up of this mineral. Additionally, calcium deficiency has been linked to increased risk of bone problems (fractures, osteoporosis) as well as diabetes.

Good Sources of Calcium

Dairy products and eggs are rich sources of calcium. And therein lies the tricky issue: vegetarians who do not eat these foods as well as vegans will have to look for alternative ways to obtain this mineral.

The Tricky Issue

Edna Loh mentions that an Oxford study found that bone fracture rates are much higher in vegans as compared to omnivores and lacto-ovo-vegetarians. This is due to a significant reduction of readily available calcium from their diet because of the omission of milk and milk products.

Useful Tips for Those Who Do Not Eat Meat, Eggs and Dairy Products

Do eat these. Here are some vegan-friendly sources of calcium as per Edna’s recommendation:

  • Calcium-fortified soy milk. One cup meets 30% of the daily value (DV).
  • Firm tofu. Half a cup meets 25% DV.
  • Soft tofu. Half a cup meets 14% DV.
  • Calcium-fortified breakfast cereal. 1 cup can meet 10-100% DV depending on the brand. Check the nutritional information panel on the cereal box to be sure.
  • Turnip greens (lobak hijau). Half a cup meets 10% DV.

Try to limit or avoid these. Edna Loh advises limiting the intake of the following as they can either reduce the absorption rate of calcium by our digestive system or increase the rate of calcium excretion. 

  • Foods with high sodium (salt) content.
  • Caffeine. One shot or 200 mg of caffeine can cause the loss of two to three milligrams of calcium. One cup of coffee a day is fine, but the calcium loss can add up if we drink excessive amounts of caffeine-containing beverages!
  • Alcohol.
  • Foods and drinks with high phosphorus content, such as carbonated soft drinks.


The mineral iodine plays an important role in the control of our body’s metabolism. More specifically, it is an important “ingredient” in the production of thyroid hormones. Given the role these hormones play in bone and brain development, it is important for infants and pregnant women to get enough of this mineral from their diets.

Good Sources of Iodine

Seafood such as cod, shrimp, etc are rich sources of iodine, which of course is not an option for those who choose to omit these foods from their daily meals. There are also plant sources such as potatoes, bananas, prunes, corn and green beans, but their iodine content is generally lower than foods of animal origin. See the tricky issue below.

The Tricky Issue

According to Edna Loh, the iodine content in soil is generally low, hence plants typically contain far less iodine than foods from animal sources. This is a problem because a study found that about 25% of its vegetarian participants and 80% of the vegan participants suffer from iodine deficiency. The investigators suspected that the omission of fish and seafoods from these participants’ diet can be a reason for this.

Iodine deficiency can lead to impaired thyroid function, which in turn can result in problems such as goitre, weight gain, fatigue and even depression. Among children, such a deficiency may lead to stunted physical as well as mental growth.

Useful Tips for Those Who Do Not Eat Seafood

  • Coastal vegetables such as seaweeds may contain more iodine than other types of vegetables, and hence can be considered. However, seaweeds should not be the main source of iodine because they may sometimes contain too much iodine, or they may even be contaminated.
  • Another option is iodized salt. A ¼ teaspoon can meet about 45% of the DV for iodine. However, iodized salt also contains sodium, so treat it like any other salt – as per the recommendation by the Malaysian Dietary Guidelines, limit salt intake to 5g or one teaspoonful a day.
  • Pregnant vegans should consult their doctor to find out whether iodine supplements can be beneficial for both mother and baby.


Among its many functions, zinc plays a significant role in maintaining our immune system, ensuring proper cell growth and supporting wound healing. Thus, zinc deficiency can leave us vulnerable to infections.

Good Sources of Zinc

Beans, legumes, nuts, seeds and whole grains are all plant-based sources of zinc. Given that these foods are staples of both vegetarian and vegan diets, normally there will be zinc present in the diet. Whether the amount of zinc is enough… well, that is the tricky issue.

The Tricky Issue

Edna Loh reveals that phytates – a naturally occurring compound found in plant foods, including whole-grains, legumes and other plant sources of zinc – can bind to zinc and reduce the ability of the digestive system to absorb that mineral. As a result, vegetarians and vegans typically need about 50% more zinc from their diet, compared to non-vegetarians, to meet their recommended daily intake.

Useful Tips for Vegans and Vegetarians to Boost Zinc Intake

  • Soak beans, grains and seeds in water for a few hours before cooking. After that, let them sit until sprouts form. This will help increase the amount of zinc present in forms that can be more easily absorbed by the body.
  • Choose leavened grain products (bread, for example) over unleavened ones (such as crackers). Edna explains that the leavening process will partially break down the phytates present in the grains and increase the amount of zinc that can subsequently be more easily absorbed by the digestive system.

If you like this article, do subscribe here.