Safe Medicine Disposal
Most of us have cupboards or drawers full of medication that are expired or no longer needed. In many cases, you don’t even realise you have them until you decide to have a clear out.
The problem is that disposing of medication isn’t really something that many of us think about. We assume it’s just like anything else; you buy it, you use it, and then you chuck the leftovers right? Well, not exactly. The fact is that getting rid of medication incorrectly can actually be really unsafe for yourself, someone else, and the environment.
But don’t worry, learning what to do with unused medicine is fairly simple; take them to the pharmacy, or dispose of them safely at home if you can’t as a last resort.
When To Dispose of Medicine
As a general rule of thumb, you should dispose of any medication that you are no longer using. While it is recommended to keep a basic kit of over the counter medicine, keeping an excessive amount of medication, or leftover prescription medication, can be potentially dangerous and should be avoided.
You should dispose of medication when:
- It has passed its expiration date
- It has passed its use by date
- The protective packaging is damaged
- They are left over from a previous condition
To ensure that you only have the necessary medication in your home, it is important that you have a clear out of your medicine cabinet at least every 6 months.
Disposing of Medicine at a Pharmacy
It’s important to note that when disposing of medicine in the UK, the recommendation is to take the medication to your pharmacy, whether or not they have yet expired. Pharmacies have the ability to dispose of medication in the safest way possible - significantly reducing any risk of harm - and also do so following UK legislation for the disposal of medication.
To get rid of unused medication, either return the medication to the pharmacy you got the medication from, or find a pharmacy near you and take it straight to them.
Disposing of Medicine at Home
Disposing of your medication at home should only be done as a last resort. It is not the safest method for those around you or the environment. So while we can’t recommend this method at all, we do understand that some may not have the opportunity to take their medication to pharmacies. If this is the case, there are steps you can take to reduce the risk associated with disposing of your medication at home.
- Recycle cardboard boxes holding tablet blister packages
- Throw tablet blister packs into the bin, when they are empty
- Remove the label, or make it illegible
- Do not crush the medication
- Mix tablets / capsules with dirt or other inedible substances and place it in sealable packaging
- Follow the instructions on the leaflet / packaging
Can you burn old tablets?
You are strongly advised against burning any medication. It is not only unsafe in terms of the fire; the fumes could also be harmful.
Can you donate unused medicine?
Medication that has been prescribed to you cannot be used by anyone else. Donating other medicines is a controversial topic, but there are some organisations that will accept old medication for recycling purposes, or emergency aid purposes.
If you have other healthcare products that you wish to donate, that aren't medication, there are UK charities that do accept them. One of these charities is Inter Care (you can find a list of the items they do and don't accept at the end of this page).
How do I dispose of inhalers?
Inhalers can produce harmful greenhouse gases, so it is important that they are disposed of safely. Take your inhalers to a pharmacy when you have finished using them.
Can I flush my medicine down the toilet?
It’s best to avoid doing this as the medicine can end up in the environment or our water supplies, contaminating our drinking water as well as animals in nature.
As a general rule of thumb, if you are ever unsure about what to do with your unused medication - whether to take it or not, how to dispose of it, whether or not to dispose of it, etc. - the best thing to do is to speak to your doctor or pharmacist about your concerns.
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Items Inter Care Can Accept
Bandages (all types)
Bed Sheets (flat) / Pillow Cases (Must be clean and good condition)
BNF (recent editions only)
BNF for Children (recent editions only)
Blood Pressure Monitors
Catheters Long / Short Term (No bags)
Emollient / Barrier Creams
Face Masks (Oxygen – Sterile only)
Laboratory Equipment (Individual Consideration – Please call to discuss re : items available to donate)
Maternity / Sanitary Pads
Measuring Cups / Spoons
MIMS (editions up to 1 year old)
Nebulisers & accessories
Personal Protective Equipment (Includes Gloves Sterile / Non-Sterile; Aprons; Face Masks; etc.)
Plasters (all types)
Small Knitted Items (Includes Blankets – Cot Size only; Teddies; Baby Clothes; etc.)
Small Surgical Instruments (Includes Forceps; Tweezers; Speculum; Dental; etc. NO scissors or scalpels)
Soap and Alcohol Hand Rub
Sphygmomanometers (Not Mercury)
Syringes (without needles)
Thermometers (Not Mercury)
Toothbrushes & Toothpaste
Wipes (Antibacterial and Pre-Injection)
Items not accepted by Inter Care
ᴓ NO PATIENT RETURNED MEDICINES
ᴓ NO Aerosols
ᴓ NO Artificial Limbs
ᴓ NO Bladder Washout
ᴓ NO Blood Glucose Meters
ᴓ NO Callipers / Collars / Braces / Boots
ᴓ NO Catheter / Stoma Bags
ᴓ NO Enteral Feeding Sets or Syringes
ᴓ NO Incomplete / Broken Equipment
ᴓ NO Incontinence Pads or Pants
ᴓ NO Insulin Pen or Needles
ᴓ NO Liquids
ᴓ NO MERCURY items
ᴓ NO Nutritional Supplements
ᴓ NO SHARPS (Unless delivered at your own expense)
ᴓ NO Syringe Drivers
ᴓ NO X-Ray Machines / Film