See all tips to
GreenYour Garbage

Dispose of pharmaceuticals properly

This feature is only available to GreenYour members. Please sign-up.

Not sure what to do with that leftover Lipitor or expired amoxicillin since you heard that flushing it might cause fish to grow extra body parts? The White House and a team of US federal agencies have come up with a solution (and it involves kitty litter).

How to dispose of pharmaceuticals properly

It's a common problem most of us have faced: what's the best way to dispose of unused, unneeded, or expired prescription drugs? Throw them in the trash? Flush them down the toilet? Give unused painkillers to your brother-in-law with the bad back? The US government decided to study this problem for two reasons. One, it wants to stop the growing problem of prescription drug abuse and theft, and two, it wants to protect the environment from the toxic effects of improper disposal of prescription drugs. To that end, the US Office of National Drug Control Policy (ONDCP), the US Department of Health and Human Services (HHS), and the US Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) teamed up and devised a short-term solution. It suggests taking the following steps:

  1. Remove the prescription drugs from their original containers.
  2. Mix the drugs with an undesirable substance such as used coffee grounds or kitty litter.
  3. Put this unsavory mixture into a plain, sturdy container, such as an empty can or bag so that children or pets won't accidentally ingest them.
  4. Throw the container in the trash.

Another option for safe drug disposal is to find out if your community has a pharmaceutical take-back program. These programs let you bring unwanted prescription medications to a location where they will be disposed of safely.

Disposing of pharmaceuticals properly helps you go green because…

  • It keeps harmful chemicals found in medications from contaminating groundwater and causing potential health hazards for humans, animals, and wildlife.

A 1997 survey found that 63 percent of people have disposed of leftover medications in the past, either by flushing them down the toilet, throwing them in the trash, or giving them to another person. These leftover medications are referred to by the EPA as pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs). Sales of over-the-counter medicines in the US have increased by 60 percent since the 1990s, adding to the disposal problem.[1]

Related health issues

New chemical detection methods have found measurable amounts of medications for pain, depression, and colds, as well as birth control pills, in samples collected from US waterways. Some of these products contain endocrine-disrupting compounds and other contaminants that researchers fear may harm aquatic life.[2] Studies have linked hormone exposure with fish abnormalities.[3]


  • pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs): Abbreviation coined by the EPA and includes controlled substances, over-the-counter medicines, prescription drugs, and vitamins.

External links