When cleaning and de-cluttering the home, more often than not, we discover many unwanted, old, expired medications.

It might be very tempting to dump the medicines into the toilet, or tip them down the sink or just put out with the garbage.  But that practice can seriously harm the environment. Return Unwanted Medicines project reminds us how:

 Why Proper Disposal of Medicines is Important

The safe disposal of unused medicines is extremely important not only for human health but also for the environment. Old medicines lying around the home can be dangerous if

  • taken when they’re out-of-date,
  • taken when not prescribed for you; or
  • in reach of little prying fingers.

Research from NPS ( in March 2012 among 1205 respondents aged 18+ nationally)  found around 1 in 5 people reported ever having taken an expired medicine.  Most medicines slowly deteriorate over time which can make them less effective and in some cases, toxic.

This article by Ecolife also mentions the following dangers of improper disposal of expired medications:

  • Compromised community safety: Medications thrown in the garbage may potentially be discovered by children, pets, and other people who would use the inappropriately. Proper disposal of medications therefore prevents this type of inadvertent misuse of pharmaceuticals.
  • Water and soil pollution: When drugs (prescription and over the counter) are tossed into the garbage or flushed down the toilet or sink, their chemical components will enter our water supply. Though small in quantity, the impact of these drugs on wildlife in the environment and humans has yet to be determined.Serious concern over the interaction of these medications is particularly high. Scientists and environmentalists have been raising concerns about the presence of pharmaceuticals in the environment for over 20 years.
  • Antibiotic resistance: When drugs prescribed to fight infection enter the environment unnecessarily, the potential for drug-resistant germs becomes significantly higher, making it much more difficult for humans to protect their health from serious infections.

How to dispose old medicines safely

So how then are we to dispose of leftover and expired medicines safely?  RUM Project suggests for homeowners to:

  • Go to your home medicine area.
  • Check expiry dates on all your medicines and separate all expired medicines into a container for return.
  • Check that you actually need all the medicines – separate those medicines no longer needed into the container for return.
  • Take the container to your local pharmacy for disposal.
For more information about the Return Unwanted Medicines (RUM) Project visit www.returnmed.com.au.