How to Properly Discard Medications

Did you know that discarding medications in the trash or flushing them down the toilet can be harmful? Learn correct ways to safely and properly dispose of your medications.

Sanaz Majd, MD
Episode #191

Does your medicine cabinet look like the pharmacy aisle at Target? Many of us collect medications throughout the years, without thoroughly cleaning out our cabinets. It’s important to discard unused and expired medications as soon as they are no longer needed, whether they are prescription or over-the-counter, in order to prevent accidental ingestion or exposure by other adults, children, or pets.

But how do you correctly discard them? Do you flush them down the toilet or your bathroom sink?  Do you throw them in the trash? Do you use it in your next recipe when your in-laws come over? OK, all joking aside (at least I hope you were joking), the former two are the top methods used by most households to dispose of medications … and not necessarily the proper ways. Let’s find out why these methods can be just as harmful as poisoning your in-laws, and learn tips on how to correctly discard medications.

What’s Wrong With Throwing Your Medications in the Trash? 

Trash can be handled by living beings—whether adults, children, or pets.  And unfortunately, if some medications are ingested by those it’s not intended for, they can be harmful—whether accidental or intentional. Disposing of medications in the trash (or via the toilet) should be a last resort if there are no other community discarding options available to you. You may also want to check with your local law enforcement to determine if discarding of medications in your trash is legal in your area.

Here are instructions from the FDA on how to properly dispose of medications in your trash (if your city or community does not have any other way to dispose of them): 

1.    Mix medicines (do not crush tablets or capsules) with an unpalatable substance such as dirt, kitty litter, or used coffee grounds;

2.    Place the mixture in a container such as a sealed plastic bag;

3.    Throw the container in your household trash;

4.    Scratch out all personal information on the prescription label of your empty pill bottle or empty medicine packaging to make it unreadable, then dispose of the container.


About the Author

Sanaz Majd, MD

Dr. Sanaz Majd, a board-certified Family Medicine physician who graduated from Drexel University College of Medicine in Philadelphia. She sees everything from pediatrics to geriatrics, but her special interests are women's health and patient education. She also loves to teach, and has been doing so since her college days.

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