How to dispose of unwanted medications

Updated February 21, 2017

Medications that we simply cannot use for one reason or another must be discarded carefully to avoid accidental ingestion. In the past, people flushed these items down a toilet or into a drain. Since our community wastewater systems and septic systems are not equipped to screen out all the hormones, antibiotics and other potential contaminants in unwanted medications, we need a better way to dispose of them.

Disposing of unwanted medications

Keep the unwanted medication in its original package. Use an indelible marker to cross out the name and prescription number on the label.

Add water to a container of pills in order to dissolve them. Add sand, sawdust, or kitty litter to dilute liquid medication. Make sure the lid is tightly sealed. Wrap duct tape or packaging tape around the seal.

Ask your local pharmacists whether they will accept unwanted medications for disposal. Many pharmacies now have a programme for receiving and disposing safely of unwanted medications.

Check with your health department to find out whether they or other local agencies have provisions for special collections of hazardous or unwanted medical materials.

Use your own household trash disposal service if there is no provision for special hazardous waste collection at your pharmacy or in your locale. Place the taped package inside a larger container with a lid such as a coffee can. Then put the container with your trash. Most landfills now are designed to contain unwanted medications prepared in this way.

Give special attention to the disposal of unwanted lancets or needles. Press the sharp end into an object that will hold them firmly in the trash. Most lancets are designed with a cap into which the sharp end can be pressed for disposal. Carefully press the sharp end of a needle into a small piece of carrot or other firm substance. Then seal it into a tightly-lidded can or jar and place it in the trash. Keep the disposal container itself covered tightly and locked away from pets and small children.

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