How to Safely Dispose of Unused Medications

The State of Michigan Department of Environmental Quality (DEQ) reports that low levels of pharmaceuticals are present nearly everywhere in our environment. Unused medications are known to enter our environment through excretion from animals and humans, disposal of unused drugs in toilets or landfills, and wastewater treatment systems. Further, the DEQ says that most wastewater treatment plants are not equipped to effectively remove pharmaceutical drugs from the water. Although there is no known threat to human health at the low levels currently found, some scientists believe that improper disposal poses a threat to human health, especially when considering the amount of ongoing discharges and the increasing use of pharmaceuticals.

What can we do about it? The DEQ has the following recommendations:

  • Check with your pharmacy to see if they have a drug buy-back program.
  • Find out if there is a special collection for unused and expired drugs in your area by contacting your waste disposal authority or local waste removal contractor.
  • Dispose of unwanted medicines in the trash if a collection program is not available.
  • Do not flush drugs down the sink or the toilet. That applies even if you are on a septic system since the drugs may leech in the groundwater and/or may result in a costly system failure by destroying the good bacteria in the system.

Should you have any questions or want any more information on disposing of unused medicine, please contact the DEQ Environmental Assistance Center at (800) 662-9278.