• Medication Disposal

  • Environmentally Safe Disposal of Pharmaceuticals


    The Illinois Environmental Protection Agency has launched an initiative in collaboration with partners in both the private and public sector to promote environmentally responsible disposal of unwanted and expired medications.

    Under a pilot program, IEPA has worked with several communities across the state, including county health departments, other local governments and pharmacies to provide expanded opportunities for collecting or dropping off pharmaceutical and personal care products.

    The Agency also has done sampling of several public water supplies across the state for a variety of pharmaceuticals. While there currently is no evidence of any imminent human health threat concern, there is a growing concern about the impact on aquatic life and habitat. In addition, with the aging of the large baby boom generation and overall increase in the use of medications, it is important to keep these medications out of our water supplies.

    On Oct. 1, 2008, Illinois EPA sponsored a “Meds with Water, Not in Water” Summit Conference in which more than 100 representatives from organizations ranging from the pharmaceutical manufacturing and distribution industry, to healthcare providers, law enforcement agencies, drinking water and wastewater treatment agencies, educators and local and state government met to brainstorm on this issue.

    The coalitions that emerged from this summit have a two-pronged action objective. The first is to educate the public, through distribution of posters, fact sheets and pamphlets, about proper disposal methods, particularly to discourage the traditional method of flushing pills down the toilet or the drain. The second action objective is to establish a greatly expanded network of secure pharmaceutical collection centers throughout the state. A Medication Education Disposal Solutions (MEDS) Action Committee has been formed as a follow-up to the Summit to work on these objectives.

    This IEPA web page is intended to consolidate fact sheets, collection options, useful partner links and other information on the disposal of medications.

    With your help we can make Illinois a national leader in reducing the amount of discarded medications entering our rivers and lakes that may otherwise ultimately impact our drinking water supplies and aquatic ecosystems.

    Disposal Options

    Addresses for medication disposal locations can be found by county by using the Disposal Locations Map.

    Illinois EPA also accepts medications at household hazardous waste collection events. In addition, unwanted or expired medications can be taken to long-term household hazardous waste facilities in Naperville, Rockford, Chicago and Lake County.

    In addition, several collections are be held at other locations around the state and information will be added to this web page as it becomes available.

    If collections are not available, IEPA asks that mediations not be flushed down the drain where they could potentially get in water sources. Instead the label should be removed from the container and the pills should be dissolved with water and placed in coffee grounds or kitty litter and then in a small plastic bag for household trash collections.

    Illinois EPA has created a fact sheet on disposal of unused or unwanted pharmaceuticals. It provides basic information on environmentally-responsible disposal methods as well as recommended steps to reduce pharmaceutical waste. For further information or questions, please email us at [email protected].

    Medication Disposal FAQs

    How does medication get into our water?

    When medication is not disposed of properly, it can end up in our lakes, rivers, streams, and ground water. Pharmaceuticals are often discarded by throwing them down a drain, toilet, or carelessly into the trash. Medication gets thrown away for several reasons, including a change in prescription, improvement in patient’s health, failure to complete a prescribed course of medication, or an excess amount of pills.

    What is wrong with flushing meds down the toilet?

    When medication and personal care products are flushed down the toilet or thrown down the drain, they can end up in our water sources. The long term effects of these pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCP) are currently not fully understood. We do know however, that having pharmaceuticals in the water supply can affect the local environment, including aquatic life.

    How do PPCP in the water affect me? The environment?

    Medication that is not disposed of properly can harm humans and wildlife, especially fish and amphibians. Medication that is thrown in the trash may be easy for kids to get into. Thousands of children every year are treated for unintentional ingestion of pharmaceuticals. Pharmaceuticals in the water have been shown to adversely affect wildlife. Trace amounts have been found in some samples of finished drinking water, but the Illinois Department of Public Health and the U.S. EPA do not believe it to endanger public health.

    Is it ok for me to throw meds in the trash?

    Medication that is carelessly thrown in the trash is an easy target for kids. It is also a target for other household members, pets, and even burglars. Aside from these risks, medication that is thrown in a trash bag will eventually end up sitting in a landfill, where it may leach indirectly into the water.

    Where can I go to drop off meds?

    For a list of known disposal sites in Illinois, see our Disposal Locations page.

    What if there is not a disposal site in my area?

    There may not be a designated site near you, but many towns hold a yearly event just for this purpose. Check with your local area to see if there is an annual drug disposal event. If disposal sites or collection events are not available, there are other ways to dispose of medication. The American Pharmacists Association recommends the following: crush and/or dissolve the medication as best as possible and then mix it with an unappetizing substance such as kitty litter or coffee grounds. Place this mixture in a discreet sealed bag or container (double bagging is recommended to prevent leaching) (Illinois Indiana Sea Grant).

    Another helpful hint from the Illinois EPA is to make sure you only buy what is needed from the pharmacy. For example, many pharmacies encourage buying a three-month supply, as compared to a one month supply. However, a three-month supply is not always needed. Make sure to take all the medication that was prescribed for you; it is better for you and the environment. Never put meds down the toilet or sink!

    What is accepted at these disposal sites?

    As of right now, the disposal sites collect non controlled, non hazardous medications. This includes prescribed or over-the-counter vitamins/supplements, homeopathic remedies, creams, oils, ointments, and suppositories (P2D2). Contact your local disposal site for a complete listing.

    What is not accepted?

    Sharps will only be accepted if there is a separate bin (provided by the site) that is designated for them. Controlled and/or illegal drugs may be accepted, depending on the site’s specific DEA regulations. Check with your local site disposal program beforehand.

    Is it discreet?

    Yes. Medications may be brought in unmarked, unidentifiable bags, jars, etc.

    Can I just bring meds back to any pharmacy?

    No. Not every pharmacy has a take-back program.

    How should I transport the meds?

    Feel free to transport your old medication using any empty bag, jar, container, or bottle. All drugs will end up together in a bin, so it does not matter how they get there. Just be sure to remove all identifying labels.

    My health, age and/or disability make it difficult for me to get around. Is there a home pickup service?

    As of right now, no.

    What happens to the meds after I drop them off?

    The medication will be sorted, and then placed in a bin. The bins will be picked up and delivered to a plant, where they will be incinerated.

    Is the disposal method environmentally safe?

    Incineration is environmentally safer than other disposal methods. The process is highly regulated by the EPA. It is done in a way that minimizes contamination of air particles (P2D2).

    Who else can I contact for information, locally or online?

    Start with contacting your local law officials, pharmacy, and doctors. For general information regarding take-back programs, contact Dave Walters (IEPA). For information regarding pharmaceutical effects on our rivers and streams, contact Cecily Smith (Prairie Rivers Network) at (217) 344-2371. For general information, visit the Illinois Indiana Sea Grant website. For questions regarding starting a take-back program in your area, contact Paul Ritter or Eric Bohm of Pontiac Township High School (P2D2) at (815) 844-6113. For information regarding pharmaceutical and personal care products in drinking water, contact Bill Soucie (Illinois Section AWWA).

    I am interested in starting a disposal program in my area. How should I begin?

    You will need to work with your community leaders to ensure that the program is run safely and adheres to the law. You should begin by contacting the local law enforcement and pharmacies. Make sure they are on board with the idea. You will also need to arrange for proper transport and incineration of the meds. For more ideas and specific regulations, contact the Illinois EPA and the P2D2 program. Illinois Indiana Sea Grant has helpful tips for starting a take-back program and a list of potential partners on their website (tips include funding, publicity, convenience, safety, record-keeping, participant privacy, supervision, hazardous waste regulations, and disposal methods).

    Can I get someone to come give a presentation in my area?

    There may be an expert speaker available in your area. Experts who are willing to give presentations can be contacted through the Illinois EPA's Medication Disposal program.

    Source: epa.illinois.gov/