Guide to Recyclables — Medical Waste

Medications – Prescription and Over the Counter

If your medicine cabinet is filled with unused medications that you no longer use you need to dispose of them properly. The practice of flushing unused medications down the toilet is no longer recommended because of concerns about trace levels of drug residues found in surface water, such as rivers and lakes, and in some community drinking water supplies.

Project Medicine Drop

The Project Medicine Drop service is now available at the Ewing  Police Department and allows consumers to dispose of their unused medications safely and securely any day of the year at secured drop boxes. These boxes do not accept liquids or syringes, only solid drugs.  For a list of participating communities see Drop Locations from the NJ Division of Consumer Affairs.

Guidelines for Drug Disposal

  • Follow any specific disposal instructions on the drug label or patient information that accompanies the medication. Do not flush prescription drugs down the toilet unless this information specifically instructs you to do so.
  • If no instructions are given on the drug label and no take-back program is available in your area, take them out of their original containers and mix them with an undesirable substance, such as used coffee grounds or kitty litter — to make the medication less appealing and unrecognizable — then put them in a sealable bag, empty can, or other container to prevent the medication from leaking or breaking out of a garbage bag.
  • You should also remove any identifying information on the label to protect your identity and privacy.

Despite the safety reasons for flushing drugs, some people are questioning the practice because of concerns about trace levels of drug residues found in surface water, such as rivers and lakes, and in some community drinking water supplies. However, the main way drug residues enter water systems is by people taking medications and then naturally passing them through their bodies.  That said, the FDA does not want to add drug residues into water systems unnecessarily. The agency reviewed its drug labels to identify products with disposal directions recommending flushing or disposal down the sink. This continuously revised listing can be found at FDA’s Web page on Disposal of Unused Medicines.

Medical Waste Disposal: Needles And Syringes

Improper disposal of needles and syringes may cause risks to others.  Never flush them down the toilet, and never place in recycling bins or in regular household trash.

The FDA recommends that used needles and other sharps be immediately placed in FDA-cleared sharps disposal containers. These containers are generally available through pharmacies, medical supply companies, health care providers, and online.

Sharps disposal guidelines and programs vary. Check with your local trash removal services or health department to see which of the following disposal methods are available:

Drop Box or Supervised Collection Sites

You may be able to drop off your sharps disposal containers at appropriate chosen collection sites, such as doctors’ offices, hospitals, pharmacies, health departments, medical waste facilities, and police or fire stations. Services may be free or have a nominal fee.

Mail-Back Programs

You may be able to mail certain FDA-cleared sharps disposal containers to a collection site for proper disposal, usually for a fee. Fees vary, depending on the size of the container. Follow the container manufacturer’s instructions because mail-back programs may have specific requirements on how to label sharps disposal containers.

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