Safe Use / Disposal

Safe Disposal of Prescription Medication and Environmental Protection

America’s biopharmaceutical research companies have a strong history of supporting partnerships that educate consumers about safe disposal of prescription medication, which can help prevent diversion and minimizes the medicine’s impact on the environment.

Promoting sustainability in manufacturing

The pharmaceutical industry collaborates with various local, state, and federal agencies to understand and reduce the environmental impact of the research and manufacturing process for new medicines. The member companies of PhRMA comply with extensive federal, state, and local regulations governing the pharmaceutical manufacturing process, including all guidelines addressing the pre-treatment and testing of wastewater streams. As part of our development and manufacturing processes, our members research the impact its chemical compounds may have on the environment.

In addition to ongoing collaboration with government agencies, many individual companies are employing “green chemistry” principles in the design, development, and manufacture of medicines. Many of our member companies have received LEED awards for their innovative efforts in green building and construction, energy conservation and green chemistry.

Pharmaceuticals in the environment

Safe disposal programs help prevent diversion in an environmentally friendly manner, however, due to how our bodies metabolize the medicine we take, some trace amounts of pharmaceuticals may still be found in surface waters. When a drug passes through the body without being fully metabolized, trace amounts of the medication enter the wastewater treatment system and find their way into surface waters.

The quantity of pharmaceuticals in the water supply is exceedingly small—equivalent to a single sugar cube dissolved in more than two million gallons of water. That’s the size of four Olympic-size swimming pools!

Peer-reviewed studies indicate little risk to human health posed by such insignificant amounts. There have been no published studies to date showing any harm to people from these amounts.

Partnering for consumer education

The appropriate use of medicines encompasses more than simply following the recommended dosing. The biopharmaceutical industry has a long history of educating consumers about prescription drug abuse and the safe disposal of prescription medication.

Our partners in these efforts include:

Partnership for a Drug-Free America

American College of Emergency Physicians

National Association of Chain Drug Stores

Consumer Healthcare Products Association

The U.S. Department of Fish and Wildlife

The American Pharmacists Association

Disposal of prescription medication

It’s vital to dispose of medications properly in order to protect our environment and to keep medications away from drug abusers or curious children and pets. Medications should never be poured down the sink or flushed down the toilet, except for a few medications identified as appropriate for flushing by the FDA. For many, “in home” disposal is the easiest option to safely dispose of unused or expired medication.

Home disposal recommends unwanted medicines be removed from containers, placed in a sealed plastic bag or container and discarded with normal household trash. To the extent that children or pets are present in the household, consumers may wish to mix coffee grounds, cat litter, or other unpalatable home waste in with the unused medicines before sealing the mixture in a plastic bag and discarding it with normal household waste.

PhRMA supports the Drug Enforcement Agency’s National Take-Back Day. This program provides sites for patients to drop off unneeded prescription medications, which are then destroyed by local law enforcement officials.

“In-home” disposal recommends unwanted medicines be removed from containers, placed in a sealed plastic bag or container and discarded with normal household trash. To the extent that children or pets are present in the household, consumers may wish to mix coffee grounds, cat litter, or other unpalatable home waste in with the unused medicines before sealing the mixture in a plastic bag and discarding it with normal household waste.

Disposing of needles and other sharp medical waste

A “sharp” is a medical device with sharp points designed to puncture skin. Examples include needles, syringes, and lancets.

Needles and other sharps should never be placed in trash cans or recycling bins or flushed down the toilet. Improper disposal of sharps puts sanitation workers, housekeepers, and family members at risk of injury.

The best way to dispose of sharps is to place them in a disposal container immediately after use. Disposal containers should be made of leak-resistant, heavy-duty plastic. The container should close with a puncture-proof lid and should be properly labeled.

Learn more about disposing of needles and other sharps from these two FDA resources:

Needles and Other Sharps: Safe Disposal Outside of Health Care Settings

Do’s and Don’ts: Safe Disposal of Needles and Other Sharps Used at Home, at Work or While Traveling

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