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Medicines journey – Safe medicine disposal

Medicine Journey - Safe Medicine Disposal

Safe disposal of surplus, unwanted or expired medicines

Safe disposal of expired, unwanted or unused medicines by patients is a major challenge wordwide. Disposal of medicines is subject to legislation and in the UK is regulated by the Environment Agency. This means that surplus, unwanted or expired medicines must be disposed of in a safe way. Healthcare professionals have a duty of care to ensure that patients and carers are advised to return such medicines to a community pharmacy for safe disposal.

Why might medicines need to be disposed of?

  • A person’s treatment changes or stops.
  • A person dies.
  • The medicine has reached its expiry date.

What happens to medicines returned to the community pharmacy?

  • Waste medicines that contain chemotherapy related medicines (cytotoxic or cytostatic medicines) are deemed hazardous and are stored in purple topped containers.
  • Non-hazardous waste medicines are stored in blue topped containers.

Can unwanted medicines be disposed of in the bin or down the toilet?

NO. It is important that medicines are disposed of correctly. Evidence shows that inappropriate disposal (putting medicines in the bin or down the toilet) can contaminate soil and groundwater, thus harming the environment. This could also lead to accidental contamination of animals or contamination of drinking water. Remember – all unwanted or expired medicines must be returned to the pharmacy for safe disposal.

What can be done to minimise medicine waste? There are some simple things people can do to avoid excess medicines.

Medicine waste UK advises people to:

  • Make sure they only order the medicines that they need.
  • Let GP or pharmacist know if they stop using any medicines.
  • Check stock level of medicines before reordering.
  • Discuss medicines with GP or pharmacist regularly to ensure they are still required.
  • Be careful with use of repeat prescription forms (do not just tick all the medicines on the form, only the ones that are needed).
  • Take medicines with them when admitted to hospital.
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