The VetCA website provides environmental compliance
assistance information to hospitals and other healthcare facilities, which must
follow strict federal and state guidelines for waste management.These rules don't usually apply to private
citizens.However, most individuals are
conscious of our environment and look for ways to be good environmental
stewards, whether it's recycling resources or properly disposing of potentially
hazardous materials.Therefore, we are
posting this fact sheet to help answer the question, "What is the proper way to
dispose of unused medicines?"
Many of us have been trained to get rid of old or unwanted
drugs by flushing them down the toilet. This practice evolved from our desire
to keep potentially dangerous drugs out of the hands of others, especially
children. However, recent research is showing that this may be the least
environmentally friendly method of disposing of old or unwanted drugs, because it
transfers these chemicals to our water resources.When discarded drugs are washed into streams, rivers, lakes and
aquifers, they can affect fish and wildlife – and they can contaminate our
drinking water supplies.
The U.S. Fish and Wildlife
Service and the American
Pharmacists Association (APhA) have joined forces to help protect our
nation's fish and aquatic resources from improper disposal of medication by
establishing the "SMARxT DISPOSAL"
program.This program recommends the
following procedures for unused drug disposal:
- DO NOT FLUSH unused medications or POUR them down a sink or drain.*
- Be proactive and
dispose of unused medication in household trash. When discarding unused medications, ensure you
protect children and pets from potentially negative effects:
- Pour medication into a sealable plastic bag.
If medication is a solid (pill, liquid capsule, etc.), crush it or add
water to dissolve it.
- Add kitty litter, sawdust, coffee grounds (or
any material that mixes with the medication and makes it less appealing
for pets and children to eat) to the plastic bag.
- Seal the plastic bag and put it in the trash.
- Remove and destroy ALL identifying personal
information (prescription label) from all medication containers before
recycling them or throwing them away.
- Check for Approved State and Local Collection Programs. Another option is to check for approved state and local
collection alternatives such as community based household hazardous waste
collection programs. In certain states, you may be able to take your
unused medications to your community pharmacy or other location for
- Consult your
pharmacist with any
More on Pharmaceutical
Pharmaceutical collection programs allow individuals to safely
dispose of unused medications by taking or mailing them to an approved
collection center, who typically incinerate these wastes.From an environmental standpoint, this may
be a better solution than disposing of the medicine in the trash, because trash
is often landfilled, and the runoff from these sites could find its way into
our water resources.
The collection concept has been successfully implemented in
Europe, Canada and Australia for more than 10 years and it is gaining
popularity in the U.S.Several states,
cities, and counties throughout have successfully initiated long-term
pharmaceutical collection programs, while others have organized single-day or
annual collection events. Some programs have been specifically dedicated to
collection of households' medicines, while others have accepted pharmaceuticals
as part of a larger household hazardous waste collection program.
Finding a Local
To find the best solution for unused medications in your
area, your will need to do some investigative work.Two reliable sources of information are your pharmacist and local
government.When contacting your county
or city, look for someone in the solid waste disposal department and ask about
*November 2009 update. The FDA now recommends that certain medicines are best disposed of by flushing down the drain. This is a controversial decision and could be reversed sometime in the future.