Protecting Public Health and the Environment.

Safe Pharmaceuticals Disposal

What to do with unused or expired pharmaceuticals is a growing concern in a number of states including Idaho. We have begun to realize that a surplus of unused or expired pharmaceuticals can adversely impact our environment, lead to increased drug abuse, and contribute to accidental poisonings.

  • Our Environment: When drugs are flushed down the toilet or poured down the drain, they directly enter our environment. Medicines in wastewater currently cannot be removed by treatment plants, and they end up in our lakes, rivers, and streams. Over 80% of waterways tested in the U.S. show traces of common medications such as acetaminophen, hormones, blood pressure medicine, codeine, and antibiotics. Studies by EPA show that water bodies contaminated with medications can adversely impact aquatic life. Studies have linked hormone exposure to reproductive defects in fish, and environmental exposure to antibiotics to the development of drug-resistant germs.  Fortunately, scientists have found no adverse impacts on human health to date.
  • Drug Abuse: When unused or expired prescription drugs sit in the medicine cabinet, they become too easily available and appealing to potential drug abusers, especially young adults and youth. The federal Food and Drug Administration (FDA) reports that nonmedical use of prescription drugs is second only to marijuana use among persons 12 years of age and older and that prescription drug abuse is increasing at an alarming rate.
  • Accidental Poisoning: Here again, medications left unattended can have tragic consequences, especially among very young children. It is better to dispose of unneeded household pharmaceuticals than to hang onto them, especially when there is a risk of accidental poisoning, overdose or diversion.

Pharmaceutical Disposal Do's and Don'ts for Households

  • Do NOT dispose of medicines in the toilet or sink. This includes any prescription or nonprescription substances intended to be swallowed, inhaled, injected, applied to the skin or eyes, or otherwise absorbed. Disposing of chemicals including pharmaceuticals down the drain adds to the exposure in our environment. Everyone can help by not contributing to this problem.
  • Do dispose of your unused pharmaceuticals at a household hazardous waste collection facility, if one exists in your community, or at a household hazardous waste collection event held periodically at some communities in the state. Residents in Ada County can log on to to find locations around the county that collect pharmaceuticals. For other communities, contact your county solid waste or landfill department or city public works department to find out if a program exists in your community. If your community does not have a program, contact local officials to encourage them to sponsor a collection event.
  • If no collection program exists in your community, disposing of non-hazardous pharmaceuticals in the trash may be considered. Check with your pharmacy and doctor's office first, then call the landfill for suggestions. Be sure to ask whether the landfill is lined before considering this disposal option. When placing non-hazardous pharmaceuticals in the trash, be sure to do the following:
    • Remove unused, unneeded, or expired prescriptions from their original containers.
    • Mix them with an undesirable substance, like used coffee grounds or kitty litter.
    • Put them in impermeable, non-descript containers.
    • Hide them in your trash.
  • Do purchase drugs in small amounts. Buy only as much as can be reasonably used before the expiration date. For example, don't buy 500 aspirin just because it's cheaper, unless you will use them all.
  • Do follow your doctor’s advice to take all antibiotics until the supply is exhausted. Not using all doses of an antibiotic could lead to development of antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria.

Staff Contacts

Hazardous Waste Rules and Policy Coordinator
Caroline Moores
DEQ State Office
Waste Management & Remediation Division
1410 N. Hilton
Boise, ID 83706
(208) 373-0554

Pollution Prevention and Continuous Improvement Lead
Ben Jarvis
DEQ State Office
Director's Office
1410 N. Hilton
Boise, ID 83706
(208) 373-0146

DEQ Resource

Proper Disposal of Pharmaceuticals

More Information

Idaho Pharmaceutical Take-Back Program Guide

Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products (PPCPs)

Household Hazardous Waste Program: Pharmaceuticals

Product Stewardship Institute: Pharmaceuticals

Proper Disposal of Prescription Drugs

Related Pages

Household Hazardous Waste

Environmental Assistance for Hospitals