Disposing of Expired or Unwanted Medications

As I rifled through a kitchen cabinet today looking for something or other, I suddenly became inspired to purge a few things that were taking up space. Among them, numerous bottles and packets of pills, vitamins, cold and other medicines that were expired or no longer needed.

As I began to collect them for disposal, I remembered seeing a sign recently at my children’s preschool with warnings against flushing unwanted medications and tips for properly disposing of them. Since school is closed the next few days, I decided to go online to determine exactly what I should do with this stash.

The general consensus seems to be that we should only flush medications when specifically indicated in the packaging, as with some narcotic pain medications (to prevent abuse). Because of concerns about improperly discarded medicines having a negative impact on our environment and waterways, flushing is otherwise not recommended. There seems to be agreement, though, that some portion of medications make their way into the waterways because our bodies pass along what they don’t absorb as waste and our treatment facilities don’t eliminate all traces. But, even though traces may still end up in our waterways, it seems wise to avoid unnecessarily adding more.

So, what can you do?

  1. Remove medications from original containers, especially if prescription (privacy protection), put in a bag or other container and put with coffee grounds, cat litter, or other highly undesirable trash less likely to be riffled through.
  2. Search for location that accepts unwanted and/or unneeded medications. Earth911 as a search tool where one can enter a zip code to find a center within a maximum of 100 miles where medications can be taken.  At the top of the homepage, just enter “unused or unwanted medications” in the “what” box and your zip in the “where box.
  3. Consider medication purchases on the front end. I’m not opposed to the use of prescription medications, I take them when I need them. But, I will definitely give more thought to over-the-counter medications, purchase smaller quantities that are more likely to be fully consumed before they expire, and explore alternative treatments.
  4. Learn more about recycling and reclamation programs. According to Earth911, 37 states have created programs for recycling and reclaiming drugs. Find out what resources are available where you live and/or work.

Filed Under: Environment

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