FAQ

Should all unwanted or expired medicine be thrown away at home?

All over-the-counter (OTC) and most prescription medicines can be thrown away in the household trash by following some simple steps. There are a handful of prescription medicines that should only be disposed of through a drug take-back program or by flushing down the toilet. These medicines can be harmful – even in just one dose. To know which ones, visit the U.S. Food and Drug Administration’s website. Also, certain types of medication like inhalers, needles or aerosols may have specific disposal instructions. Check the label and package inserts for any specific disposal instructions and don’t flush a product unless specifically directed.

Why is in-home disposal preferred?

In-home disposal gives consumers a safe, convenient, and free option to immediately dispose of unwanted or expired medicines that prevents misuse or abuse.

Is disposing unwanted or expired medicine in the trash safe for the environment?

Yes. Throwing away unwanted or expired medicine in the household trash is an environmentally friendly disposal option. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency both support and promote in-home disposal. Trace amounts of pharmaceuticals can be found in waterways because we use them-we ingest and then excrete them. Trace amounts will always be present regardless of the disposal method for unused medicine. Disposing of unwanted medication in the trash (which is then put into a landfill) versus flushing it down the toilet, however, will reduce the trace amount of product that makes its way into our waterways. Most U.S. solid waste landfills are lined and thus prevent waste from entering groundwater and ultimately surface water.

What is a drug take-back program?

Some communities provide residents with drug collection programs, often referred to as “drug take-back” programs.  These programs typically consist of periodic events or designated days where consumers can bring their unwanted medicines to a specific site and drop them in a secure collection bin. Some local law enforcement and pharmacies may also have permanent collection bins. Voluntary drug collection (or drug take-back) programs are a useful tool for consumers who choose not to dispose of medicines in the household trash. They are particularly helpful for consumers who want to dispose of a large quantity of medications.The U.S. Drug Enforcement Agency establishes strict guidelines for how to manage a drug take-back program to ensure products remain secure and are properly transported to an approved incineration facility. Drug take-back events may be hosted by a local pharmacy or law enforcement agency. Find an authorized drug take-back program near you at DEAdiversion.usdoj.gov.

To quickly get rid of unwanted or expired medicines, in-home disposal is the safe, convenient, and free option.

Are drug take-back programs free?

Consumers do not have to pay a fee to use a voluntary drug collection (or drug take-back) program or bring unwanted or expired medicines to a collection site. Running the program, however, is expensive. Community organizers, pharmacies or law enforcement who host a drug collection program do so at their own expense. Some lawmakers are starting to mandate that medicine manufacturers build and pay for mandatory community take-back programs. The average local take-back program can cost well above $500,000 per municipality annually. Any local mandatory program would cost millions to fund and implement, which most consumers believe would increase medicine costs. Increased healthcare costs would affect those least able to afford it, including individuals with disabilities, low-income families, and seniors on fixed incomes.

Are take-back programs better for the environment than in-home disposal?

There is no science to suggest this. In fact, a recent study conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan concludes that drug take-back programs may in fact be worse on the environment than in-home drug disposal due to the carbon emissions of trucking waste across the country to one of only 10 designated incineration facilities nationwide. Trucking hazardous waste across state lines and incinerating medicine increases carbon emissions. Incinerators are known to release numerous toxic chemicals into the atmosphere and to produce ashes and other solid waste residues that contaminate the air, water, and soil as well as vegetation in the vicinity of the facility. Further, populations living near incinerators are potentially exposed to chemicals by way of inhalation of contaminated air. Drug take-back programs can be a helpful community resource. To quickly get rid of unwanted or expired medicines, in-home disposal is the safe, convenient, and free option.

Is there one disposal method that is better than the other for the environment?

Throwing away unwanted or expired medicine in the household trash is an environmentally friendly disposal option. Most U.S. solid waste landfills are lined and thus prevent waste from entering groundwater. Thus, disposing medicine in the trash (which is then put into a landfill) versus flushing it down the toilet will reduce the trace amount of product that makes its way into our waterways. Current scientific evidence does not support that drug take-back efforts will make a measurable difference in the levels of pharmaceuticals in waterways, including drinking water. Further, a recent study conducted by researchers at the University of Michigan concludes that drug take-back programs may in fact be worse on the environment than in-home drug disposal due to the carbon emissions of trucking waste across the country to one of only 10 designated incineration facilities nationwide. Trucking hazardous waste across state lines and incinerating medicine increases carbon emissions. Incinerators are known to release numerous toxic chemicals into the atmosphere and to produce ashes and other solid waste residues that contaminate the air, water, and soil as well as vegetation in the vicinity of the facility. Further, populations living near incinerators are potentially exposed to chemicals by way of inhalation of contaminated air.

Who runs take back programs?

The Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) establishes the criteria for community-driven drug take-back collection and events. Call your city to see what’s available near you, look for events in September when the DEA usually hosts a National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day and go to www.dea.gov to learn more.