How to Dispose of Medicine Properly

dispose of medicine

Disposing of medicine properly keeps it out of the environment and our bodies.

I was cleaning out our bathroom cabinets the other day, looking for materials to take to our local county special trash collection. While I was cleaning everything out, I came across our medicine box. I opened it up and found that about half of the over-the-counter medicine we had was expired. I threw it all into a box, figuring that I could take it to the special trash collection that was happening in a few days. However, after thinking about the types of trash that I had taken to previous special collections, I started to wonder if they would accept expired medicine or not, so I gave them a call.

It turned out that they do not accept medicine of any type, expired or not. I looked at my box of medicine and started wondering what I should do with it. So, I started researching how to properly dispose of medicine. Here is what I found out.

There are currently 3 main methods of disposing of things and those same methods are used when it comes to disposing of medicine.

Flush It

Each year, hospitals, other healthcare facilities and individuals flush millions of tons of unused or expired medicine into our wastewater. Unfortunately, when you dispose of medicine down the drain, it ends up in the wastewater, where it can slip through the treatment process and end up being put into the environment, or worse, in our drinking water.

As there are millions of different medicines, the interactions between all of these drugs simply cannot be predicted and are probably not good. In fact, in one study done in Davis County, Utah, scientists were able to link drug dumping to virulent antibiotic-resistant germs and genetic mutations that may promote cancers. Another study at the University of Rouen Medical Center in France showed that 31 of 38 wastewater samples showed the ability to mutate genes. Finally, a Swiss study of hospital wastewater suggested that fluoroquinolone antibiotics also can disfigure bacterial DNA, raising the question of whether such drug concoctions can heighten the risk of cancer in humans.

So, flushing old or expired medicine down the drain is not a viable solution.

Burn It

If we can’t flush medicine, maybe we can burn it instead?

Unfortunately, that will not work either. Burning medicine produces Dioxin, a group of persistent, organic pollutants that are among the most toxic chemicals known. Dioxins can persist in the environment for thousands of years and can be transported around the globe via atmospheric or waterborne transport. They dissolve in fat and because they are eliminated from the body only very slowly, they accumulate in the food chain. As a result, top predators, including humans, can have very high concentrations. They are also passed on to mother to child, both before birth, and via breastfeeding. In the 1990s, the USEPA found that some 40% of the US’s dioxin emissions to air came from medical waste incineration.

The production of Dioxin is a good enough reason to not burn medicine, but another reason is that the resulting waste product, such as fly ash, has to be disposed of as hazardous waste.

So, incineration of medicine is not a viable option either.

Bury It

Burying medicine underground is the final option. It is also the most safe method and is the one recommended by the FDA. However, you shouldn’t just throw your old medicine in the trash. There are some precautions you should take to make sure it is disposed of properly. Otherwise, there is a far greater chance that the medicine will eventually make its way back into the environment.

If the medicine is in capsule form, take the capsule apart or crush it to get the medicine inside out. If it is in pill form, crush up the pill to break down the medicine into small pieces. Then, combine the medicine with an absorbing material, such as used coffee grounds or kitty litter, so that it sticks to it and helps contain it. If you have liquid medicine, pour it into an absorbing material so that it is contained by the absorbing material.

Once you have finished combining the medicine with the absorbing material, put it all in a plastic bag or other sealed container and put it in your trash.

As you can see, even the recommended method of disposing of medicine is not all that great. The best way that you can help to keep medicine out of the environment and our bodies is to not buy it at all or buy only the amount you need. By purchasing small amounts of medicine, you save money and reduce the amount you may have to eventually throw away, which keeps the environment cleaner for all of us.

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