Leftover medicine is toxic waste. 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.
Prescription medications pose a danger to people, pets, and the environment if it’s not disposed of properly. If flushed or thrown away it can get into the waterways, affecting our drinking water. Just as we don’t put used motor oil or leftover paint thinner in the trash, we should not put toxic leftover medicines in the garbage. 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 don’t destroy 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 more than 46,000 cases in the U.S. of pets exposed to medicines in 2009. (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 left-over medicines. That’s how the pharmaceutical industry disposes of their unwanted medicines.