Here’s How You Can Properly Dispose Of Your RX Medications

So you’re doing your spring cleaning, and your next focus area is in your medicine cabinet. You’ve found multiple bottles with long gone expiration dates, and you’re not sure how you can responsibly dispose of all of these pills.

Fair warning, you may want to keep track carefully of when your medicine expires to ensure that no one else consumes them without noticing. Many of times there is accidental consumption of expired pills that lead to severe health issues.

There are three different options you have when getting rid of your expired or unneeded medication, but first, check any instructions on the labeling to see if the answer is provided on there.

Many medications have a step by step disposal instruction method preferred but if not then you’re just going to have to make an educated choice.

Option 1: Find Pill Take Back or DEA Authorized Collectors:

There are many of these located throughout the states, but for you to find one in your local area, you must search online or call. There are various events set up in communities where the DEA will come to collect all unused or expired medications to ensure the safekeeping and disposal. Some sites have ‘drop off boxes,’ but again it all depends on the area you’re in to see what kind of options are available.

Option 2: Flush:

There is a list of medication that is recommended for disposal by being flushed if there is a concern of immediate disposal in the household. Most of the drugs that can be flushed are generic with generic formulations regarding their active ingredient. The majority of medications can be disposed of this way as it doesn’t do any harm to the drain if they are of decent sizing and done in increments. This is definitely one of the most convenient ways to get rid of any unneeded medication.

Option 3: Place In Household Trash

If multiple medications need to be thrown away, you can place them all into a sealed plastic bag. Do not crush the tablets or capsules exposing the ingredients in a harmful way. It is best to mix kitty little, soil or used coffee grounds as the unpalatable substance will assist with hiding the medication as well as refraining from a fatal combination.

Before placing the medication or the bottles of prescribed medicine make sure all of the personal information is scratched out and unreadable to ensure privacy. Then simply put the containers or sealed plastic bag in the trashcan until you either take it out to the bigger one, or it’s trash day.

All in all, make sure you’re disposing of any unneeded, expired or harmful medications within your household using whichever option is more suitable for you. There isn’t necessarily an option that is better than another, but there is no harm in reaching out to DEA authorized collectors to ensure that the medicine isn’t being placed in the wrong hands.

Check out the video below for more info on how to dispose of your medicine!

Common Questions

What is SMARxT DISPOSAL?

  • SMARXDISPOSALSmart Disposal Trademark is a public awareness campaign that targets medication consumers to providing guidance on proper disposal of unused and or expired prescription and over-the-counter medications.  SMARXDISPOSALSmart Disposal Trademark also raises awareness about the potential environmental impacts from improperly disposed medications. This national campaign unites diverse interests from the health care profession, pharmaceutical manufacturers, and conservation community and encourages each to use their unique strengths and diverse communication networks to communicate with medication consumers.
  • How do pharmaceutical ingredients get into the environment?
    • Pharmaceuticals detected in surface waters come primarily from patient use.  Small amounts of medicines pass through the human body without being metabolized completely and make their way to surface waters through the municipal wastewater treatment system. In addition, people in the past have flushed unused or expired medications, or poured them down the drain.

Why is proper disposal of medications important?

  • Properly disposing of unused medications by NOT flushing them or NOT pouring them down the drain is one small step we can take to keep our waterways clean.

What, exactly, am I being asked to do?

If flushing medication is so bad, why was it recommended to begin with?

  • At one time, flushing was believed to be the safest way to dispose of medicine.  Flushing medications was thought to protect children and pets from accidental ingestion of unused medication and decrease the chance of the medication being misused. 

If I flush medicines down the toilet or pour them down the sink don’t they get removed at the wastewater treatment plant?

  • New technology is capable of detecting low concentrations of chemical wastes, including small amounts of pharmaceuticals. These studies have shown municipal wastewater treatment facilities do not remove small amounts of pharmaceutical wastes and their by-products.  However, studies show that those trace amounts have no appreciable risk on human health.

What are the medications of concern?

  • Any prescription or over the counter medication. There is no easy way to identify a particular medicine that may be harmful if flushed or poured down the sink so the best approach is not to flush any.

Why can’t I just dump pills into my kitchen trash can? Do I really need to go thru all those steps?

  • Unfortunately, when pills are just thrown in the trash, it can lead to unintended exposure to people or animals.   People may go through the trash to obtain unused medications or personal information found on discarded prescription bottles. This is called “dumpster diving.” Additionally, if trash is not securely closed, scavenging animals may accidentally eat discarded medicines along with food items they find in the garbage or at a landfill. Also, trash occasionally spills, allowing loose pills to reach the environment where they could pose a risk to fish and wildlife. The extra steps we recommend, including removal of personal information from medication containers, provide a safer method of disposing of unused or expired medications.

I have medicines in my cabinet that expired months, or even years, ago. Can I just dump those down the toilet?

  • The expiration date on medications is the date at which the manufacturer can still guarantee the safety and full potency of the medication.  However, if stored properly, medications can remain effective (biologically active) for months or even years after the expiration date. Therefore, we also recommend you follow our SMARXDISPOSALSmart Disposal Trademark guidelines for disposing of expired medicines. Important note: Never take an expired medication without checking with your pharmacist first.

What is known about the impacts of medication in water on fish?

  • Most scientists that have evaluated current published data have concluded there appear to be no appreciable short-term aquatic life effects due to pharmaceuticals in the environment.  However, work continues on evaluating long-term effects in order to refine these assessments.   One area of focused effort is certain hormones because they are potentially a class of compounds with observable effects at environmentally relevant concentrations.   Scientific knowledge of the potential long-term effects of pharmaceuticals in the environment on plant and wildlife is in the early stages of development.

Is there a human health concern about medications in the water?

  • Studies conducted to date suggest it is unlikely that the quantities of pharmaceuticals detected in the environment are harmful to human health.

Why are the Fish and Wildlife Service (FWS), American Pharmacists Association (APhA) and Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) working together?

  • FWS, APhA and PhRMA agree that medications play a vital role in our society.  In addition, we agree that it is important to protect our families and our natural resources, including our waterways, fish and other aquatic organisms.  Because of these commonly-held beliefs, we are collaborating to design and implement a communications strategy to educate the public about appropriate medication disposal and the natural resource benefits of these actions.

Is disposal via household trash the best way to dispose of unused and expired medication?

  • SMARXDISPOSALSmart Disposal Trademark focuses on what we can do collectively and individually to ensure that unused medications are not flushed or poured down the drain.   Current best science indicates that that disposal via household trash as described by the SMARxT DISPOSAL™  program is an appropriate method.

Become a Supporter

Thank you for your interest in supporting SMARXDISPOSALSmart Disposal Trademark. Our goal is to encourage participation of a diverse network of partners to elevate the issue and expand the campaign’s reach. Everyone is welcome to print and distribute materials provided as resources on this site. There is no need to become a Supporting Organization or sign the Brand Use Agreement.

Supporting Organizations

If your organization would like to show your support of the SMARXDISPOSAL Smart Disposal Trademark campaign, please complete the online form and we’ll add you to the list of Supporting Organizations.

Current Supporting Organizations

Brand Use

If you are interested in creating your own SMARXDISPOSAL Smart Disposal Trademark campaign materials for distribution, we will soon be posting a Brand Use Agreement, Brand Standards and Reporting Requirements. Since the campaign materials are trademarked, providing these materials helps us to ensure the proper use of the trademark and establishes a degree of accountability for the campaign. Until we are able to provide this information, please feel free to use the campaign materials on our resources page.

About The Partnership

SMARXDISPOSALSmart Disposal Trademark is a unique public-private partnership between the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service, the American Pharmacists Association, and the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America. This support and involvement is what separates SMARXDISPOSALSmart Disposal Trademark from other initiatives and it will ultimately make this campaign successful.

About The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service

The U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service is the principal Federal agency responsible for conserving, protecting and enhancing fish, wildlife and plants and their habitats for the continuing benefit of the American people. The Service manages the 95-million-acre National Wildlife Refuge System, which encompasses 547 national wildlife refuges, thousands of small wetlands and other special management areas. It also operates 69 national fish hatcheries, 64 fishery resources offices and 81 ecological services field stations. The agency enforces federal wildlife laws, administers the Endangered Species Act, manages migratory bird populations, restores nationally significant fisheries, conserves and restores wildlife habitat such as wetlands, and helps foreign and Native American tribal governments with their conservation efforts. It also oversees the Federal Assistance program, which distributes hundreds of millions of dollars in excise taxes on fishing and hunting equipment to state fish and wildlife agencies.

About The American Pharmacists Association

The American Pharmacists Association, founded in 1852 as the American Pharmaceutical Association, represents more than 63,000 practicing pharmacists, pharmaceutical scientists, student pharmacists, pharmacy technicians, and others interested in advancing the profession. APhA, dedicated to helping all pharmacists improve medication use and advance patient care, is the first-established and largest association of pharmacists in the United States.

About The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America

The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) represents the country’s leading pharmaceutical research and biotechnology companies, which are devoted to inventing medicines that allow patients to live longer, healthier, and more productive lives. PhRMA companies are leading the way in the search for new cures. PhRMA members alone invested an estimated $43 billion in 2006 in discovering and developing new medicines. Industry-wide research and investment reached a record $55.2 billion in 2006.

Scientific American Recognizes SMARXT DISPOSAL Smart Disposal Trademark

In the January 2008 edition of the American Scientific, the U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service (Service) and American Pharmacists Association (APhA) received a “SciAm 50 Award” for Trends in Business, Policy and Research. Each year, American Scientific gives 50 awards to “visionaries from the worlds of research, industry and politics whose recent accomplishments point toward a brighter technological future for everyone.” The Service and APhA received the prestigious award for their 2007 public-awareness efforts to prevent people from flushing their unused medications down the toilet. Improperly disposed medications can eventually enter surface and ground water potentially causing negative effects to the environment.

Resources

Listed below are materials specific to the campaign. These materials are print-quality. All materials may be downloaded, copied, and distributed without alteration free of charge. If you would like to add your organization’s information to the materials you must receive permission first. 

In addition, we have provided contact information for the vendors we have used to print these materials.

Campaign Materials:

  • Fact Sheet
  • Bookmark
    – Single (letter size)
    – 4 per Page (poster size)
  • Magnet
    – Small (designed for 2 x 3 ½” Business Card size magnet)
    – Large (3MB designed for 3 x 3 3/4” size magnet)
  • Poster
    – Small (letter size)
    – Large (2.6MB poster size)
  • Presentation
    – pdf (Acrobat file)
    – ppt (2.3MB Powerpoint file)
  • Banners for your website

We are in the process of developing additional materials and will be adding them to this page as they are completed.

Need a different file format? 

Vendor Information:

Providing this information is not intended as an endorsement of the vendor. We do not guarantee that these vendors offer the best prices nor that their product’s quality is better than other vendor’s. This information is solely provided for your convenience. The vendor will not alter the materials in any way without our permission.

Bookmark:

Jonathan Zellner
Signature Printing
Chantilly, VA
703-968-9682
j.z@signatureprinting.net
(product reference – USFWS 2008)