Medicine Disposal

Have you ever been toodling along, singing a song, minding your own business, being green, and then having your bubble burst with the realization that you’ve been violating the earth unintentionally with a thoughtless act? Yeah, me too. Disposing of expired and unnecessary medicines was such a wake-up call for me.

Part of my problem is that I don’t take meds very often so it just doesn’t occur to me that they age and expire, and that I then need to “throw them away”. And in the rare case that I did throw something away it didn’t occur to me that it would be a problem for the planet, or my health.

My Bigger Half suffers migraines so has a bevy of medicines to help him cope with them. His meds do expire or become redundant and need to be disposed of. He has taught me to just flush them down the toilet so they don’t fall into the “wrong hands”. For awhile, that seemed like plan of action.

One day I chanced across an article comment that caused my green-light bulb to click on. Trace medications — of all sorts, including hormones, antibiotics, and pain killers — are found increasingly present in our soil and water supplies. That happens because of the way people throw them away or flush them down the toilet. Oh, that’s not at all what I want to contribute too!

Drinking water contamination from meds is as worrisome to the public health and environment as mercury or other hazardous materials. It especially impacts the very young and the very old, but it’s not good for anyone ingesting the trace bits of medicines found in the water.

Then, somewhere I heard that pharmacies would collect unwanted medicines and dispose of them properly. That sounded reasonable. So I set about searching for and collecting all of our expired and unused meds and took them to the local WalMart pharmacy. Hah! They indeed don’t collect them from the public in my area, though that’s mandatory in many countries. After asking around to several of the pharmacies I gathered the hospital pharmacy does collect medicines and dispose of them through a carefully monitored disposal program.

Donating them to charities that will distribute them to third world countries is another possible avenue to explore. Even though they are expired in the US, they may still be good and valuable elsewhere. Physicians participating with those programs can discern if the medicines are still viable, and will dispose of them properly if they aren’t useful.

These pills, creams, ointments and liquids that expire in our medicine cabinets are hazardous waste. Maybe a hazardous waste facility will take them in your area. After my battery recycling escapade I’m not too hopeful about that, but it’s always worth a try.

Articles I read in preparation for this article indicated you could pulverize them, mix them with used cat litter or coffee grounds, put them in a child-proof container which then gets put into several zip-lock bags, and/or another thick plastic container, before disposing of in the landfill. Whew! That’s a lot of effort for a less-than-desirable solution.

Whatever you do, do NOT flush medicines down the toilet!

Check out these resources for your expired drug disposal program.

Your local hospital

Take Back Express


So now my little collection of expired medicines are collected in a plastic bag awaiting my next trip to the hospital. The meds I’m disposing of include aspirin, tetra/lidoca, Ex-Lax, Melatonin, tessalon/benzonanatate, metronidazole, Imitrex, and sore throat spray. Since we give blood every two months I know exactly when they will be taken to the hospital pharmacy for proper disposal. No more flushed medicines for us!

Dispose of your unused medicines responsibly. Take them to a location that handles them properly. It’s your health we’re talking about.