Ways to safely dispose of medications

By Kaia Johnson Kemper 

Guest Columnist


Many of us have medicines that have expired or that we stop taking before we use them all up. Getting unused and unwanted medicines out of your house is important to prevent poisoning or abuse, and properly disposing of medicines is vital for protecting the environment. Flushing medicines down the drain can pollute lakes and rivers, harm wildlife and end up in drinking water supplies. Here are some tips for safely disposing of medicines.

Do’s and Don’ts for Medication Disposal 

Do use it up! Use all antibiotics as prescribed by your doctor. Not taking all doses of an antibiotic can lead to development of antibiotic resistant strains of bacteria.

Don’t buy more than you can use by the expiration date. Think twice before buying the bottle of 500 aspirin just because it’s cheaper.

Do keep medication in its original container. The labels may contain safety information and the caps are typically childproof.

Don’t put needles or medical sharps in the trash. Syringes, lancets and other medical sharps should be managed separately. Find safety tips at RethinkRecycling.com’s  Needles and Syringes Page.

Do bring unwanted medications to a collection site. Many police departments and sheriff’s offices have drop boxes for unwanted medicines. Find drop-off sites in your county in the Residential Recycling Guide at RethinkRecycling.com. Programs typically accept prescription, over-the-counter and pet medicines.

Can’t make it to a collection site?

The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency has these suggestions for minimizing risks when disposing of medications in the trash.

1. Modify the contents to discourage consumption.

• Solid medications: add vinegar to pills or capsules to partially dissolve them.

• Liquid medications: add enough table salt or nontoxic powdered spice, such as mustard to make a smelly, unappealing mixture.

2. Seal and conceal. Tape the container shut with packing or duct tape and put it in a non-transparent container such as an empty yogurt or margarine tub.

3. Discard the container in your garbage can—not the curbside recycling bin.

Get more reduce, reuse and recycle information for residences and businesses at RethinkRecycling.com.


About RethinkRecycling.com: The Solid Waste Management Coordinating Board launched its first education outreach campaign in 2003 to help citizens living in Anoka, Carver, Dakota, Hennepin, Ramsey and Washington understand the urgent need to make environmentally responsible purchasing and disposal decisions in their daily lives. The board is proud to sponsor its current campaign, RethinkRecycling.com.