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Because You Asked

How Should I Dispose of Unused Meds?

By Recyclebank |

You can flush leftover medications or dilute them and toss them in the trash, but the best thing to do is return them through DEA-authorized programs.


Dear Recyclebank,

I'd like to know how you should dispose of medications that are leftover, and if adding them to the landfill will harm other things there?

-Glenda M.

Dear Glenda,


Properly disposing of unused prescription and over-the-counter drugs can be somewhat confusing. A quick online search will pull up credible sources like the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) outlining instructions to crush and mix medications with coffee grinds or kitty litter before tossing them in the trash, or even to flush certain medications down the toilet. But flushing drugs down the toilet or pouring them down drains both pose environmental hazards: Our wastewater treatment plants and septic systems cannot remove these chemicals, so they get discharged into our rivers and bays, polluting our waters and harming marine life, as well as contaminating our food and water supplies.


The Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) also wants to prevent drug theft, prescription drug abuse, and other wrongful use by keeping unused medications away from unsecured trashcans. When unused medications, narcotics, and controlled-substances are improperly thrown in the trash, children and pets can potentially access them, causing accidental poisoning or exposure to toxic substances. The DEA recommends crushing or diluting with water all medications before putting them in an unmarked, sealed container and placing them in the trash. Yet, this poses problems once they sit in a landfill, where pharmaceutical chemicals could potentially leach into the ground and even enter our waterways.


While all of the above options are legally accepted, and even recommended, they should really be your last resort. The safest, most environmentally responsible way to dispose of unwanted medications is to return them to DEA-authorized collectors or medicine take-back programs. Here are some ways to take advantage of DEA-authorized return programs:


  1. Save your unused medications for the DEA’s National Prescription Drug Take-Back Days, which happen twice a year, in spring and fall. The next Take-Back Day for 2015 is scheduled for September 26th; you can check their site on September 1st to locate a collection site closest to you.
  2. Check your local pharmacy to see if they participate in take-back programs or partner with medication mail-in programs. For example, all CVS stores offer a pharmaceutical disposal system, which provides customers with envelopes to mail in their unused, expired, or unwanted drugs for safe disposal.
  3. Check with your local law enforcement agencies about upcoming or ongoing collection events, as they sometimes operate their own programs as well.

Take Back Your Meds
U.S. Department of Justice Drug Enforcement Administration
U.S. Environmental Protection Agency
U.S. Food and Drug Administration









What do you usually do with your unused medications and over-the-counter drugs? Share your ideas in the comments below.

Share with Your Friends & Family
  • wayne w. 4 years ago
    Returning the pills to the pharmacy for disposal soon.
  • Cher M. 4 years ago
    Our police dept has a kiosk right inside the door for prescription & non prescription meds
  • Claudia L. 4 years ago
    Please DO NOT FLUSH. They are contaminating water supply. Mix them with used (wet) coffee grounds and put them in the trash. If you have a cat litter box, mix them with used cat litter and put them in the trash.
  • Carolyn B. 4 years ago
    Our local police departments have a box in their lobby where unwanted meds can be put for disposal. And, yearly, the fire department has a recycle day!! #5 pill containers can be recycled at a local Whole Foods market.
  • tommy b. 4 years ago
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