Disposal of Unused Drugs: Knowledge and Behavior Among People Around the World

Rev Environ Contam Toxicol. 2017;240:71-104. doi: 10.1007/398_2016_3.


The purpose of this systematic review was to determine the practice of medication disposal around the world and get insight into possible association between environmental awareness and people's behavior regarding this issue. A literature search (2005-2015) was performed to identify reports with quantitative data on disposal practices published in peer-reviewed literature. The most common method for disposal of unused medications in households is disposal in the garbage (Kuwait, United Kingdom, Lithuania, Qatar, Serbia, Ghana, Bangladesh, Malta and Saudi Arabia). The practice of flushing drugs into the sewage system still takes place in New Zealand, USA and Bangladesh. Only in Sweden and Germany, practice of returning drugs to pharmacy was practiced to a larger extent. The environmental impact of improper medication disposal is expected in countries with poorly functioning waste management schemes (Middle Eastern, Asian and African countries). Lack of the adequate information and clear instructions on proper manners of drug disposal was reported in many surveyed countries (USA, New Zealand, Bangladesh, Malta and Ireland). Clear and definite connection between knowledge about environmental detrimental effects of improper drug disposal and the preference towards disposal methods could not be established. Many respondents were generally concerned with issues of inadequate medicines discarding but the behavior regarding disposal of unused drugs often did not equate the awareness (Serbia, USA, Kuwait, Malta and UK). The current data emphasizes the global issue of improper medicine disposal, prevalent in environmentally-aware people.

Keywords: Awareness; Behavior; Drug disposal; Expired medications; Homes; Households; Knowledge; Medication disposal; Medication wastage; Residential; Take-back programs; Unused drugs; Unused medicines.

Publication types

  • Review
  • Systematic Review

MeSH terms

  • Health Knowledge, Attitudes, Practice*
  • Humans
  • Pharmaceutical Preparations*
  • Refuse Disposal / methods*


  • Pharmaceutical Preparations