How To Properly Dispose of Prescription Medicine

November 30, 2011 View all articles in General

Americans spend over $286 billion on prescription drugs every year. It turns out that in 1990, the pharmaceutical industry released 266 million gallons of wastewater daily, according to the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA). And anywhere between 50 to 90 percent of the active ingredients found in medications are passed through the body without being absorbed, which means if they don't break down in the sewage treatment process, they enter waterways and contaminate groundwater. In fact, an investigation of drinking water in 24 major US towns found traces of epilepsy drugs, painkillers, prozac, estrogen, and others, which can cause potential health hazards for humans, animals, and wildlife. 

Sixty-three percent of people surveyed in 1997 either flushed leftover medications down the toilet, threw them in the trash, or gave them to another person. According to the EPA, none of these methods are the correct method of disposal. So when you have leftover medication, what is the best way to dispose of the pills? Here are some tips the ChasingGreen team thought you might find useful. 


  • Because medication can leach from landfills, it's not a good idea to throw any medications in the garbage. That includes nasal sprays, eye ointments, and hemorrhoid creams. 
  • Ask your pharmacy if they have a drug disposal program. If they do, that means your pharmacy sends old meds off to medical incinerators or chemical landfills that are fortified to take hazardous waste. 
  • If your pharmacy doesn't provide this service, check your municipality and ask if they have a drug take-back program. These programs will let you bring unwanted prescription drugs to a location where they can be disposed of safely and in an environmentally sound way.
  • Many cities consider pharmaceuticals hazardous waste and ask that you drop them off at your local hazardous-waste depot.
  • Call your doctor to see if their office is equipped to safely dispose of your medications.
  • If you must dispose of medications by throwing them in the trash, you should add water to solid medications or solidify liquid medicines with sawdust, coffee grounds, or flour, and then place the mixture in an empty can or bag so they're not accidentally ingested by children or pets. 
  • Don't forget to re-use your empty medication bottles! Read our article "Re-Use Your Empty Prescription Pill Bottles" for useful, helpful tips!


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