Expired drug treatment: Newster's SEiFER project

11 April 2024

A focus on the plant for converting expired drugs into agricultural fertilizer

Waste from pharmaceutical treatments, although essential for the treatment of more or less serious diseases, if not properly managed turns out to be highly hazardous to health and the environment. Especially, cytotoxic wastes hold the highest hazard index as they may also contain one or more mutagenic, teratogenic or carcinogenic properties. 

Any discharge of cytotoxic and pharmaceutical wastes into the environment can, in fact, have disastrous ecological consequences in the form of persistent pollution of land, air and water.

The Stockholm Convention and current solutions for the treatment of expired drugs

The international environmental treaty established under the Stockholm Convention on Persistent Organic Pollutants and POPs aims to eliminate or restrict the production and use of POPs, defined as "chemicals that persist in the environment, bioaccumulate in the food chain, and cause adverse effects on both human health and the environment."

On a practical level, in low-income countries that are signatories to the agreement, this has translated into the closure of all those small- and medium-scale medical waste incinerators that are unable to meet the maximum allowable concentration limit for furans and dioxins in emissions. Alternative disposal technologies such as inerting (mixing of the drugs, including their packaging, with liquid concrete) and encapsulation (mixing in cementitious agglomerate) and subsequent disposition of the waste in large, very often unregulated landfills, which can create extensive damage as a result of leaching of the active ingredients into groundwater or groundwater, had to be implemented.

In high-income countries, on the other hand, adoption of the convention has resulted in a push toward incineration through large-scale plants that can guarantee energy recovery and maximum environmental performance through expensive gaseous emission abatement systems, while keeping in mind the environmental impact from road transport.

Newster's innovative SEiFER project for processing expired drugs

It is in this context that the SEiFER project, a plant for converting expired drugs into agricultural fertilizer, was born. Among its main goals is the realization of a technology that enables the efficient utilization of the pharmaceutical and cytotoxic waste treatment and recovery process resulting in the transformation of the treated waste into a new product or "zero waste", so that it can once again play a useful role in the circular economy.

The benefits derived from SEiFER will have social, environmental and economic impacts. Compared with currently available technologies on an international scale, SEiFER will contribute to the foundation of a new technological branch afferent to best plant techniques (BATs), aimed at a radical conversion and reduction of the impacts that pharmaceutical and cytotoxic waste management and treatment have on human health and the environment.

Expired drugs

The operation of the plant for the treatment of expired drugs

The SEiFER project is primarily based on a hydro thermal carbonisation (HTC) process, which is a thermochemical method commonly used to convert biomass at relatively low temperatures and pressures in the presence of liquid water.

During this reaction, which can last more than 8 hours, the biomass is decomposed, generating a carbonaceous solid called hydrochar (HC). This process simulates the natural conditions that led to the formation of peat or lignite from plant matter. In the specific case of pharmaceuticals, the HTC process is applied to obtain an agricultural hydrochar that can be used as an organic soil conditioner to improve soil fertility and water-holding capacity.

Treatment begins with the extraction of the drug from its packaging; if the drug is solid, water is added as diluent and oxidizer in the reaction cell.

Once the hydrothermal carbonization process is completed, the reaction cell is depressurized and the treated product is then removed. The resulting compound is then a "0-waste," meaning it can be used from the perspective of the "circular economy."

The plant also includes an air treatment unit in case harmful gases are generated during depressurization. In addition, a water recirculation system is provided to re-treat water from the first drug treatment in case unreacted substances, such as furans or thiols, are present.


In conclusion, Newster's SEiFER project is an innovative solution for processing expired drugs, as it promotes circular economy and reduces environmental impact. Contact us now for more information about the project. Be part of the change!

Newster System S.r.l.
Via Pascoli, 26/28
47853 Cerasolo di Coriano (RN)
Tel. +39 0541 759160
Fax +39 0541 759163
VAT NUMBER IT09269221009

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Newster System S.r.l. - Via Pascoli, 26/28 - 47853 Cerasolo di Coriano (RN) - Tel. +39 0541 759160 - Fax +39 0541 759163 - VAT NUMBER IT09269221009

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