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.
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.
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.
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.
For a list of known disposal sites in Illinois, see our Disposal Locations page.
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!
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.
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.
Yes. Medications may be brought in unmarked, unidentifiable bags, jars, etc.
No. Not every pharmacy has a take-back program.
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.
As of right now, no.
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.
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).
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).
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).
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.