As part of my recent decluttering spree, I gathered a box of expired medications and another bag with old sharps and unused needles awaiting proper disposal.
But what is the appropriate method for disposal? Conventional wisdom when it comes to getting rid of old prescriptions is usually to flush them. Not so fast!
There are a small number of medications that the FDA recommends flushing down the toilet. Normally it’s specified on the prescription label and/or instructions, and applies only to certain medications as a safety precaution to keep harmful or fatal doses from being ingested by children when they are discarded.
For a list of these medications, please see the FDA’s webpage for safe disposal of medicines.
For all other medicines, there are a couple of options:
1) Hazardous Waste Management:
As it turns out, our local waste management company offers a FREE hazardous waste management service that allows residents to drop off expired medications, old paint, batteries, needles, cleaning solvents, and all kinds of other things you shouldn’t just throw in the garbage. Who knew? I visited their website and quickly found information on where to bring the medicines, how to package them for disposal, directions to the facility and its hours and days of operation. My local facility is a drive through! Drive up, fill out a short form and they will take your items out of the car for you for proper disposal. Easy peasy!
Some companies also offer pickup for residents as well – check with your local waste management company for specifics!
2) Throw them away safely:
In the event your local company doesn’t offer waste service, or you’re outside the service area, you can safely dispose of medications in the garbage as well. The goal is to minimize the risk of the drug attracting the attention of a child or animal that could be harmed by ingesting it.
First, remove or scratch off the label from the medicine’s container that contains any personal information, or information about the drug and its prescription number.
Next, remove the medication from its container, tube, bottle, etc and place it in a sealable bag. You can put all your expired medicines in the same bag. Then add kitty litter, coffee grounds and/or sawdust to the bag to make it less palatable, seal the bag and place it in your regular garbage container.
There is contradicting information about whether to crush or dissolve pills or capsules, so I’m using the FDA’s recommendation, which is NOT to crush or dissolve them.
In my state, as in many others, it is illegal to throw needles or a sharps container away in the garbage. Used needles should always be placed in a sharps container for disposal immediately after use.
I asked a few resources what to do with UNUSED needles to find out if there is a green alternative for needles still in their original packaging. Unfortunately, once the needles are dispensed by the pharmacy, they are considered used and cannot be returned, even unopened. If you discover you have more needles than you need, the safest place for UNUSED needles is in the same sharps container. Never throw needles in the garbage, even unused needles in their original packaging.
You can either participate in a mailback program, find a participating drop off location, or take them to your local hazardous waste facility for incineration.
The FDA lists a couple of options for sharps disposal here, and SafeNeedleDisposal.org has information on requirements for each state. I’d recommend trying your local waste management company first… it’s free!
So that’s it for today… be inspired, and make your home a SAFE haven!