Leftover medicine is toxic waste. It poses a danger to people, pets, and the environment if it’s not disposed of properly. If flushed or thrown away it can get into the waterways, affecting our drinking water. Just as we don’t put used motor oil or leftover paint thinner in the trash, we should not put toxic leftover medicines in the garbage. Unwanted medicines should be disposed of properly like other household hazardous waste.
Wastewater treatment facilities don’t destroy pharmaceuticals that are flushed. Most drugs pass through treatment plants and into our surface, ground, and marine waters.
Trash disposal is not secure– especially for narcotics and other highly addictive and dangerous drugs. Even if pills are crushed or adulterated before they’re thrown in the trash – which is a dangerous practice itself – the drugs retain their biological and chemical activity and can still get into the environment. Trash disposal simply puts the environmental problem of these persistent toxic chemicals onto future generations.
Pets can be poisoned by medicines thrown in the trash. The Animal Poison Control Center handled more than 46,000 cases in the U.S. of pets exposed to medicines in 2009. (ASPCA)
Toxic leftover medicines are household hazardous waste that should not be put into landfills. Two counties in Washington have local ordinances that do not allow residents to throw all or most medicines in the garbage.
High temperature incineration at properly permitted facilities is currently the safest disposal method for toxic left-over medicines. That’s how the pharmaceutical industry disposes of their unwanted medicines.
In 2010, a coalition launched an ongoing educational program to encourage everyone to “Monitor, Secure and Dispose” of their prescription medications. Numerous partners have made the success of this program possible.
The coalition plans Utah's participation in the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration’s National Prescription Take Back Initiative with collection events each spring and fall.
Do NOT store them in an unsecured medicine cabinet where children, teens or visitors may have access.
Do NOT flush your medicines down the toilet or wash them down the sink.
Do NOT throw them away if you can use a medicine take-back program.
Do NOT crush your pills to dispose of in the trash, this can be very dangerous.
There are many reasons why people have leftover prescription medicines. A doctor may change a patient’s medicine to find one that’s better for them. Large amounts of medicines are often leftover after a serious illness or after the death of a family member. Overprescribing, especially of pain relievers, is also a problem that is receiving attention. Over-the-counter medicines also need to be properly handled and disposed of safely. Several over-the-counter medicines (e.g., ibuprofen, Tylenol) are on the top ten poisoning list in Washington, and over-the-counter drugs are frequently found in our waters.
Toxic leftover drugs are endangering our children, our families, and our environment. A huge amount of medicines go unused - about one-third of medicines sold - yet we don’t have a secure and environmentally safe way to dispose of them.
Storing unwanted or expired medicines in our homes contributes to the epidemic of medicine abuse and accidental poisonings. When flushed or thrown away, unused medicines are hazardous waste that pollutes our waters and environment. Medicine take-back programs offer the only secure and environmentally sound way to dispose of leftover medicines.