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.

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.

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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