Medicine Disposal

What’s in Your Medicine Cabinet?

Have you looked in your medicine cabinet lately? You might find unused prescription medicines, expired over-the-counter products like aspirin, cold remedies, vitamins and supplements, even pet medications. Do you think that flushing them down the toilet or the sink is the best way to get rid of them? STOP!

You may have been told, even by a healthcare provider, that this is the preferred way to dispose of unwanted medications. Flushing unwanted drugs down the toilet or sink does prevent someone from accidentally or intentionally taking the medicine. But, disposing of them in this way causes water pollution because they pass through septic systems and sewage treatment plants untreated.

Drugs in the water, even in highly diluted concentrations, can have adverse effects on fish and other aquatic wildlife. For example, estrogen and estrogen-mimicking compounds have been shown to cause a “feminization” of some kinds of fish. There may be human affects as well – the release of antibiotics in the environment may account for an increased resistance of certain bacteria to these antibiotics.

Health care facilities and businesses are regulated and have systems in place to safely dispose of pharmaceuticals and hazardous wastes. But individuals have fewer options since consumer generated pharmaceutical waste is not consider household hazardous waste and cannot be brought to the Willington Chemical Waste Drop-Off Facility. However, we can do our part to prevent environmental damage by disposing of these products in the best way possible – by safely putting them in the trash. In Connecticut, most of our garbage is burned at resource recovery facilities at very high temperatures that will destroy these products and prevent them from getting into our land and water.

The Connecticut Department of Environmental Protection (DEEP) recommends that you carefully follow these steps before you put any medicines in the trash:


1. Keep the medication in its original container.

  •  To protect privacy and discourage misuse of the prescription, cross out the patient’s name with a permanent marker.


2. Modify the medications to discourage consumption.

  • For solid medications, such as pills or capsules, add a tiny amount of water to at least partially dissolve them.
  • For liquid medications add enough table salt, flour, charcoal or nontoxic powered spice, such as turmeric or mustard to make a pungent, unsightly mixture that discourages anyone from taking them.
  • For blister packs wrap in multiple layers of duct tape.


3. Seal and conceal.

  • Tape the medication container lid shut with packing or duct tape.
  • Place it inside a non-transparent bag or container such as an empty margarine tub to ensure that the contents cannot be seen.
  • Do not conceal medications in food products because animals could inadvertently consume them.


4. Discard the container in your garbage can.

  • Do not place in your recycling bin!


Taken from CT Department of Energy and Environmental Protection, “Pollution Prevention View” newsletter