What 2 Flush Summit: Supreme Court Decision Gives New Momentum to Drug Take Back Programs

Heidi Sanborn, California Product --Stewardship Council


BREAKING NEWS – EPA announces new proposed rules to eliminate the disposal of pharmaceutical drugs down the drain at healthcare facilities. Read the EPA news release here.


In the second half of the CASA-CWEA “What 2 Flush” Summit on May 1st, Heidi Sanborn the executive director of the California Product Stewardship Council reviewed the latest efforts to provide drug take back programs. CPSC’s aim is to bring an end to old medicines getting flushed down the drain or tossed into a landfill where they can pose a threat to drinking water.

Sanborn shared success stories from countries around the world that are running successful drug take back programs. In Mexico, the drug take back program was approved in 2009 and rolled out nationwide this year. Disposal units are in pharmacies nationwide and the program is paid for by pharmaceutical manufacturers.

In Canada the pharmaceutical industry designed the take back program called the Canadian Health Products Stewardship Association, and oversees and funds it.  They report to government each year about what they’re collecting. In the province of Ontario the medical and sharps take back program has been running since 2013 and 90% of the pharmacies have voluntarily installed a take back bin – exceeding the original goal. Over 3,400 pharmacies participate. In 2012, they collected 407 tons of unwanted medications and 259 tons of sharps.

In Washington State’s King County, the Board of Health passed regulations to establish a safe and convenient drug take back program and require drug manufacturers to fund the program.  This year the Board of Health is reviewing proposals from a consortium of pharmaceutical companies to establish an independent program financed by the manufacturers and run by a local organization.

In California, efforts to establish a Statewide medicine take back program funded by the manufacturers has not been successful, according to Sanborn. Her organization is focused on shifting the cost of waste management from cities and counties back to the original manufactures of products.

“Our mission is to shift California’s waste management costs over to waste diversion programs funded by manufactures.”

“We don’t want to handle stuff that is too toxic,” she said. In recent years, the establishment of rechargeable battery take back programs and the PaintCare take back program, both funded by product manufactures, are positives examples of product stewardship programs.

Pharmaceutical take back programs have struggled in the State Legislature despite recommendations from CalRecycle to establish roles and responsibilities for a take back program and to establish a funding mechanism through a private sector approach with government oversight – “commonly referred to as product stewardship” Sanborn said.

With little regulatory action at the State level, many local jurisdictions have adopted their own County Ordinances, including Alameda County and San Francisco.

According to Sanborn recent court decisions are a strong win for product stewardship groups and the wastewater sector.

“Local governments can make producers pay to take back their products and don’t have to wait for State or Federal (agencies) to act,” she said in a recent follow-up interview.

Sanborn said CPSC and wastewater professionals make strong allies. Not only is her group working on preventing medicines from getting flushed, she’s also heading up a program to reduce the number of needles getting into the solid waste stream as well as getting flushed down the toilet. Needles are a hazard for wastewater workers who can encounter them while unclogging a pump jammed full of rags, wipes and hypodermic needles.

Sanborn pointed to an example of manufacturer product responsibility – one of CPSC’s directors is from a hypodermic needle manufacturing company and actively supports creation of a disposal program.

How can CWEA and CASA members help the California Product Stewardship Association?

“Donate, follow us and share our social media posts on Facebook, Twitter and LinkedIn,” Sanborn said. “Take action when we call for it, sign up to our listservs and join our Board!”

TM – ‘What2Flush’ is registered trademark of the Orange County Sanitation District – used with permission.

CPSC Presentation - click image to download PDF

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Alec Mackie

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