Disposal practices for unwanted residential medications in the United States

Environ Int. 2009 Apr;35(3):566-72. doi: 10.1016/j.envint.2008.10.007. Epub 2008 Dec 10.


The occurrence of trace levels of prescription and over-the-counter pharmaceuticals in the environment began to receive concerted attention nearly two decades ago. The public's growing awareness and concern over the presence of these chemicals, especially in drinking water, has served to catalyze considerable discussion and debate regarding the best practices for disposal of unused or unwanted medications. In the United States, the first federal guidance for consumers was issued in 2007. It recommends discarding unused pharmaceuticals to household trash, after taking precautions to mix the pharmaceuticals with an inert substance and conceal the contents from view. Providing the consumer with additional options for conscientious disposal are various community, city, and state collection events, ongoing programs, and government-funded pilot projects. These strategies include the opportunity to mail or bring unused medications to various collection points, such as pharmacies, for eventual destruction. All of these approaches to medication disposal play roles in reducing the introduction of pharmaceuticals to the environment.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Humans
  • Medical Waste Disposal / methods*
  • Medical Waste Disposal / statistics & numerical data*
  • Pharmaceutical Preparations*
  • United States
  • Water Pollution, Chemical / prevention & control*


  • Medical Waste Disposal
  • Pharmaceutical Preparations