The PILLS Project

Eliminating pharmaceutical residue at the source

The challenge

We excrete a staggering 70% of all the pharmaceutical substances we consume. This is particularly alarming because the EU, with about 3 000 pharmaceutical products on the market, is the second biggest consumer of medicines in the world.

Yet, the impact of pharmaceutical residues on our environment, particularly in water, is still poorly understood, and treatment measures can be very costly.

The project in brief

The PILLS project worked to address these gaps by uniting universities and research centres from countries linked by the Rhine river. The idea was simple: identify potential sources of waste, such as hospitals or nursing homes, and treat their wastewater before it was discharged into the traditional circuit. 

To do this, four partners from the Netherlands, Germany, Luxembourg and Swit­zerland each built a pilot plant in cooperation with a local hospital. Advanced treatment methods were investigated to find out whether the amount of pharmaceuticals being released could be reduced to a low concentration. Additionally, research work was implemented to collect results regarding the effectiveness of advanced treatment techniques.

The aims of the project were to:

  • Find out which treatment methods were best suited to reduce pharmaceutical residues and antibiotic resistant bacteria in wastewater.
  • Gain more knowledge about options for local treatment and if these options were feasible or economical. 
  • Increase awareness of the problem across Europe.

Pollution does not stop at national borders and therefore it has to be solved internationally.

Transnational Benefit, 'The Pills Project'

The impact

The results from these studies provided pivotal information about the efficiency of the elimination rates of the pharmaceuticals as well as the related costs. Importantly, they found that treating at the source reduced risks for groundwater and surface water bodies, and that it is possible to eliminate pharmaceuticals locally at the hospitals. This information proved the ability to mitigate these risks, and impacted plans for local treatment in the future.

Furthermore, the whole life cycle of the technologies was assessed to find out whether the advanced treatment caused environmental impacts at other points. In total, 50 papers and 130 articles were published concerning medical residues, decreasing the gaps of knowledge in this field, and increasing awareness of the problem in Europe.

After the end of the project, The PILLS partners continued their work in the follow-up project noPILLS, which focused on intelligent consumption of medicines and their proper disposal.

The PILLS project found that it is possible to eliminate pharmaceuticals locally at the hospitals.


papers published concerning medical residues


articles published from PILLS project research


visits to the PILLS project website

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