Updates and Tips for Pharmaceutical Waste Management

As an integral part of medical practice, drug use ensures health preservation and leads to an increase in life quality and expectancy. At the same time, pharmaceutical waste is increasingly affecting our environment and wildlife, since unwanted drugs are often thrown away or disposed of inappropriately. Many people understand that checking your home medicine cabinet for expired or degraded drugs is necessary. However, not everyone knows how to get rid of unwanted pills and liquid medicines so that they would not harm the environment. Apart from distributing medications, Biosyncpharma.com provides customer-oriented information service on how to dispose of unused drugs responsibly, they can be contacted for professional instructions.


Drug presence in the environment was first mentioned in a number of scientific publications of 1965–1976, in which the problem of wastewater pollution was discussed. Almost ten years later (1981), this question was raised in England and Canada. However, large-scale studies along those lines emerged only in the mid-90s, when the presence of pharmaceutical pollutants in natural ecosystems was declared a new environmental problem. This period was marked by production development and increased drug consumption, as well as active introduction of new analytical methods, which could detect even trace amounts of drugs. Currently, environmental monitoring to detect pharmaceutical substances is being carried out in many countries around the world.

Causes of drug pollution

Pharmaceutical Waste Management

Pharmaceutical pollution is closely linked to increased consumption of medicines, which in turn is facilitated by factors such as demographic aging, increasing prevalence of chronic diseases, availability of low-cost generics, and new drugs emergence. Today, approx. 4000 drugs are registered around the world.

The largest drug consumers are the United States, Europe and Japan. In the European Union annual drug consumption ranges from 50g to 150g per capita depending on the country. In recent decades this indicator has shown significant growth. According to available data, in 29 countries of the European Region the level of antidepressant consumption from 1995 to 2010 was increasing annually by 20%. In addition, there has been a significant increase in antibiotic, antiepileptic, antidiabetic and analgesic drug administration.

Drug use is not always dictated by necessity. Studies around the world have shown that about 50% of all drugs are prescribed, distributed or sold improperly, and half of the patients do not take the drugs as prescribed by the doctor. Sometimes medicines are used for preventive purposes contrary to the doctor’s directions. Some consumers purchase lifestyle medicines designed to improve mood, physical appearance, etc. In addition, according to the European Federation of the Pharmaceutical Industry and Associations (EFPIA), from 3% to 8% of medicines sold remain unused. According to some reports, this indicator is significantly higher and can reach 50%, as, for example, in France and the UK. According to some reports, this indicator is significantly higher and can reach 50%, as, for example, in France and the UK.

The situation with excessive drug consumption is aggravated by the fact that many doctors are financially motivated to prescribe drugs. Advertising and widespread access to the Internet also provide more active penetration of pharmaceuticals into our daily lives, and sometimes promote the transition of drugs to the category of consumer goods. All this leads to the excessive distribution of drugs in the environment.

Rational disposal of personal medicines

Production, consumption, and waste management are the three main stages of drugs life cycle. Environmental pollution is possible at each of these stages, but incorrect disposal of unwanted medications also makes a significant contribution.

As international experience shows, the most promising method of disposing drugs is thermal neutralization in plants with multi-stage purification of flue gases. With this method, combustion occurs at high temperatures of 800–1500 °C, and the gas released during combustion enters a special afterburner. Again, the exhaust gas passes through a bubble column reactor to remove aerosols and dust. As a result, only environmentally safe gas and harmless ash residue remain.

Since such heat treatment cannot be arranged at home, disposal at a pharmacy or medical facility with special collection containers nowadays remains the safest method of personal drug disposal.

How to dispose drugs correctly

  1. Check whether pharmacies or medical facilities in your area are accepting unwanted and expired drugs for disposal.
  2. Check the drug label for disposal instructions and follow them.

If no disposal containers are available in your locality, the only solution is to throw away the drugs in the safest possible way. Many people pour expired drugs into the sink or flush the pills down the toilet, allowing drug particles enter into natural waters.

It would seem that a few pills cannot do much harm. However, taking into account the daily amounts of drugs thrown away in a big city, the harm done is difficult to imagine. As a result, particles of various drugs are detected in water and soil. They are entering plants, food products, bodies of animals and people. Antibiotics and hormones are especially dangerous in this regard. Antibiotics from water can “train” the bacteria in our body, making them resistant to treatment.

Therefore, only fully water-soluble drugs can be safely poured into the sink. However, the FDA gives a special list of medicines which should be flushed immediately if not used. This measure is taken because those drugs can be especially harmful if taken indiscriminately.

Other drugs can be disposed into the trash after properly packed. First, remove all the tablets from their packaging, including blisters, and grind them to powder. Put the resulting powder in a closeable, impervious container. Add some non-edible substance like cat litter and old tea leaves. All must be thoroughly mixed. These actions are meant to prevent animals from opening the container easily and eating the medicine.

An even better option is to prevent expired drugs from accumulating in your medicine cabinet. Try to purchase as much medicines as you need for treatment (doctors usually specify the right amount in the prescription). Finally, you can give unwanted drugs to those who really need them.

The fight against pharmaceutical pollution should be comprehensive and include both measures to change the consumer behavior and improve drug collection and disposal at the national level. Only joined forces can contribute to a successful solution to this problem.