Disposal practices for unused medications around the world

Environ Int. 2011 Jan;37(1):292-8. doi: 10.1016/j.envint.2010.10.002.


Pharmaceuticals have been detected throughout the environment where at least in some cases, they have been shown to have a detrimental effect. Many result from improper patient disposal of unused pharmaceuticals via environmentally-unfriendly routes, such as the sink, toilet or rubbish bin. This review surveys the current peer-reviewed literature on attitudes and practices to medicine disposal methods as reported by patients and the various medication disposal and destruction systems around the world. A literature search was carried out using the keywords 'medicines disposal', 'unused medicines', 'medicines wastage', and 'medication disposal' in the PubMed TM, ISI Web of Knowledge TM, Google Scholar TM, Medline TM, Scopus TM and International Pharmaceuticals Abstracts TM up to the end of May 2010. Twelve peer-reviewed articles with specified sample sizes were selected. The most popular methods for medication disposal were in the garbage, toilet or sink. Liquid medications were more likely to be rinsed down the sink, as opposed to solid tablets and capsules which were more likely deposited in the rubbish bin. Much confusion exists about the 'proper' way of medication disposal as many countries do not have standard medication disposal protocols. Furthermore, some pharmacies around the world refused to accept unused medications or discouraged the practice. Patients with knowledge about the impact of pharmaceuticals in the environment were more likely to return medications for proper disposal and destruction. It is concluded that it is of paramount importance that a formalized protocol for patient disposal and destruction of pharmaceuticals be implemented around the world.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Pharmaceutical Preparations*
  • Public Opinion
  • Refuse Disposal / methods*
  • Waste Products / statistics & numerical data*


  • Pharmaceutical Preparations
  • Waste Products