How to Dispose of Old Pills

Most people don’t think about where their unused medication goes when they throw it away, but those old pills are still potent enough to cause problems if they’re not properly discarded.

A survey conducted by the Safe and Healthy Schools Coalition found that more than half of all teenagers in schools nationwide were able to obtain prescription drugs from classmates or family members, leading to the illicit use of Ritalin, and other powerful medications without medical supervision.

How Can I Safely Dispose of Old Pills

how to dispose of pills

There are few safe ways to dispose of old pills. Regardless of the situation, it is advisable to avoid dumping them in the trash.

What Makes Disposing Old Pills In Household Trash Unsafe?

Household trash is a common way that people dispose of their unused medicines. However, medications in your trash can pose a risk to children and pets as they search for a new toy or snack while you are away.

In addition, using household trash as a method of disposal also poses an environmental threat by contaminating groundwater, harming wildlife, and polluting rivers and lakes.

When you buy medicine in bulk or have leftover medicine after finishing treatment, you should consider any of the following methods for the safe disposal of old pills to make sure your old medication doesn’t end up in the wrong hands.

1. Drug Take-Back Programs

Several cities and counties have organized drug take-back programs. This can be an excellent way to dispose of old or expired prescription drugs, although such programs are not available everywhere. For example, San Francisco has a program that allows you to drop off your unwanted medications at any fire station in town.

The National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day is also an option if you’re unable to schedule a drug-disposal event locally. Such events are held regularly around the U.S.. So, check with your local police department or sheriff’s office for more information. If they do not have one scheduled, they may be able to refer you elsewhere in your community where disposal services are available.

Take-Back Programs also work for electronic disposal. You might want to see How to Dispose of your Electronics using these programs.

2. Flushing the Old Pills

If you’re looking for a simple way to dispose of old medications, flushing them down the toilet is one option. However, it’s not advised for all medications (more info below).

For example, painkillers (can be flushed) and other drugs are fat-soluble, which means they stick around in your body longer than water-soluble ones do (think alcohol versus aspirin). That can lead to problems if you take antibiotics that get flushed out of your system into someone else’s later on.

Plus, it also just doesn’t work—most wastewater treatment facilities aren’t set up to filter out drugs like ibuprofen or acetaminophen. They’re designed to remove things like BPA and pharmaceuticals, but those don’t make up most of what’s in our waste stream.

Common Medications That Can Be Flushed

  • Antibiotics (both penicillin and tetracycline varieties)
  • Anti-fungal medications
  • Pain relievers
  • Allergy medications and
  • Thyroid medication should all be flushed

Be sure not to flush any medication that is labeled Do Not Flush. This includes birth control pills, insulin, and liquid drugs. Even if you do not have animals at home, it’s a good idea to invest in a good pill crusher so you don’t have old pills lying around your house.

Protocol For Expired Drugs In The Pharmacy

A pharmacy technician will have a different protocol for disposing of expired drugs than other healthcare professionals, but all parties agree that expired drugs are usually safe and should not be reused.

It is important, however, that you don’t just throw away expired medications; in fact, if your doctor or pharmacist has told you not to take a particular drug after its expiration date, you must abide by their instructions.

In general, there are three types of medications that need to be disposed of: Expired meds (particularly those with an established storage period) should be placed in a secure container with water so they cannot get into landfills where they could contaminate groundwater supplies.

Frequently Asked Question for Old Pills Disposal

So, what do I do if I just want to throw my medication away?

If you don’t feel comfortable returning your medicine to a drop-off location, there are other ways to get rid of old medications. If your medication is expired, take it back to where you purchased it from (for example, Walgreens) and ask them how they would like for you to dispose of them.

Typically, these stores will accept used prescriptions without questions asked. If not, then look into programs in your area such as Take Back Day sponsored by Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA). This event allows residents within participating counties to bring their unused prescription drugs (both controlled substances and noncontrolled substances) for destruction at no cost.

The EPA recommends disposing of unused drugs by mixing them with an unpalatable substance like kitty litter or coffee grounds before throwing them away. You can also return them to your local pharmacy for proper disposal.

Can I Flush Medicine Down the Sink or Toilet?

flush pills down the toilet

Almost all medicines are safe for flushing down your toilet, but you should check with your pharmacist. If you’re not sure what method is best for disposing of old pills, don’t just flush them in the toilet.

Keep a container with a lid nearby and store expired medications until it’s time to take them to your local pharmacy or healthcare facility for proper disposal. You can also check with your city for a public drop-off location near you.

What Medications are Safe for Flushing?

Certain medications (including some drugs for depression and heart problems) aren’t safe for flushing down your toilet. These chemicals can become concentrated in groundwater or accumulate in water-treatment plants and then make their way back into our drinking water.

To be on the safe side, dispose of all pills by giving them to a doctor or pharmacist for proper disposal or by taking them out with household trash. Always dispose of old medications responsibly because these chemicals are hard on human health as well as fish and plant life, which often live downstream from wastewater treatment plants.

According to Mayo Clinic, some prescription drugs can be mixed with coffee grounds or kitty litter to make them less appealing to pets.

Where Can You Safely Flush Medications?

To ensure that your medication doesn’t end up in our rivers and oceans, be sure to ask your pharmacist or doctor where it is appropriate for you to dispose of your medications. Many communities provide collection services, so be sure to check with your local water pollution control facility

If they don’t provide a service, ask if they will accept medication at their office; many places do. Just be sure not to flush or put down drains any medications that are considered hazardous waste as these can contaminate soil and waterways when left in landfills.


Most people tend to think they can simply throw old pills away with their regular trash, but that’s not a good idea. This can cause major problems for landfills and waste treatment facilities because some medications are designed to linger in your body for a certain amount of time before getting flushed out.

When you flush unused or expired meds down your toilet, they can get into groundwater supplies or wind up in other places they’re not supposed to be—such as lakes and oceans. As such, it’s best not to dispose of old medications by flushing them down the toilet.

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