Environmental Impact

What are the problems with flushing medicines?

Prescription medicine is a toxic waste and poses a danger to people, pets, and the environment if it’s not disposed of properly. Medicines flushed or poured down the drain end up in the waterways, affecting our drinking water.

A recent study shows that 80% of U.S. streams contain small amounts of human medicines. Sewage systems cannot remove these medicines from water that is released into lakes, rivers, or oceans. Fish and other aquatic animals have shown adverse effects from medicines in the water. Even very small amounts of medicine have been found in drinking water, and recent studies have shown opioids appearing in marine animals in some areas of the U.S.

Is it safe to throw medications in the trash?

No -> Medications can be found and used by other people – even if they are mixed with materials such as kitty litter or coffee grounds. If they do make it to a landfill, they can still seep into the ground and/or nearby water systems. Just as it’s unsafe to throw used motor oil or leftover paint thinner in the trash, we should not put toxic leftover medicines in the garbage. [The Animal Poison Control Center said 17.5% (34,888) of pet poisoning calls in 2017 were attributed to prescription medications.]

How should we dispose of medications?

To properly dispose of medications, participate in an Arkansas Prescription Drug Take Back Day or drop them in a permanent drop box (to find a location near you, click the Collection Sites tab).

Wastewater treatment facilities can’t properly filter pharmaceuticals that are flushed. Most drugs pass through treatment plants and into our surface, ground, and marine waters.
Trash disposal is not secure– especially for narcotics and other highly addictive and dangerous drugs. Even if pills are crushed or adulterated before they’re thrown in the trash – which is a dangerous practice itself – the drugs retain their biological and chemical activity and can still get into the environment. Trash disposal simply puts the environmental problem of these persistent toxic chemicals onto future generations.
♦ Pets can be poisoned by medicines thrown in the trash. The Animal Poison Control Center handled nearly 35,000 cases of pet poisoning from prescription medications in 2017. (ASPCA)
Toxic leftover medicines are household hazardous waste that should not be put into landfills. Two counties in Washington have local ordinances that do not allow residents to throw all or most medicines in the garbage.
♦ High-temperature incineration at properly permitted facilities is currently the safest disposal method for toxic medicines. That’s how the pharmaceutical industry disposes of their unwanted medicines, and it is the same method medicines collected by law enforcement (via Arkansas Prescription Drug Take Back Day and at Drop Boxes) use.

Dropping medicines in a take-back box, or dropping them off at an “Arkansas Drug Take Back Day” location, is the only environmentally sound method for the disposal of medications.