Frightening Ways People Dispose of Expired Medications


During our P3S Conference in Riverside last month speaker Heidi Sanborn from the California Product Stewardship Council pointed out some of the frightening ways people dispose of medications.

It’s one reason Heidi’s group is working hard to pass drug take back rules at the county level. Pharmacies will be required to install drug take back bins right inside their pharmacy. Pick-up new prescriptions – drop off the old ones. Easy! Safe! Environmentally clean!

During P3S she shared stories of how people get rid of old medicines, including: BBQing them; throwing them in a burn pit; or burying them in the backyard.

Then there’s this story from last month’s LA Times…

We (recently) learned some residents refuse to throw out old medication and instead sprinkle it throughout the grounds thinking they are recycling. At first this was not readily noticeable, but as more residents participated, it turned into a huge problem. Other owners are flushing these prescriptions down the toilet or placing them near storm drains to be flushed into the system; they don’t leave prescription bottles so we can’t identify who is doing this. What can we do about this serious problem?

Continue reading the columnist’s advice >

Well rule #1 is DON’T flush them. Once the medicine is in the water it’s much harder and more expensive to get it back out. Most wastewater treatment plants are not designed to remove medicines from the water but our advanced wastewater treatment plants are designed to remove them. That level of filtration is expensive, it’s far more efficient not to flush medicines downt he drain in the first place.

The best option is to call your City or County Hazardous Waste line and find a local drop off event. Even better – help support CPSC’s drug take back legislation. Visit to learn more.

In January CWEA joined CPSC in signing a letter to the U.S. Food & Drug Administration asking them to stop recommending to hospitals they flush expired medications down the drain. Remember – no drugs down the drain!


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Alec Mackie

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