How to Dispose of Unwanted Medicines Safely – Don’t throw them into general waste or down your loo!
If you used the long days of lockdown to have a clear-out at home, you may well have unearthed some out-of-date medicines at the back of your bathroom cabinet.
“It’s easily done,” says Michelle Riddalls, chief executive of PAGB, the consumer healthcare association.
“Many of us have forgotten about the last couple of pills in a blister pack of over-the-counter painkillers, medicines we no longer need or that final spoonful of indigestion relief in the bottle – and by the time we unearth them, they’re past their expiry date.
“It can be tempting to throw them into a black bag with the rest of your household rubbish – or, in the case of liquids, to pour them down the sink or the toilet.
“It might even cross your mind to keep expired medicines for future use – you wouldn’t be the first to wonder whether the expiry date is worth worrying about.
“But there are important reasons why you should never do either.”
Dispose of your medicines safely
“Don’t tip leftover medicines into your drains, kitchen sink or toilet as this can result in environmental contamination,” says pharmacist Deborah Evans.
“Throwing medicines into the general waste can have the same impact if they end up buried in a landfill.
“And by putting them in an open bin in your home, there’s a more immediate risk. They could be found by a child or someone for whom they weren’t intended, with dangerous consequences.
“Anyone in the UK with medicines to dispose of can take them to a community pharmacy where the team will manage their safe disposal.
“That hasn’t changed even during the Covid-19 pandemic.
“However, pharmacists and their teams will take additional precautions when accepting items directly from individuals, in recognition of the potential infection risk.
“They may also face an additional hurdle if there have been problems or delays in emptying their own waste medicine bins as a result of the pandemic.
“If you have something unusual to return then do ask the pharmacy team first. For example, sharps, needles or veterinary medicines will not be accepted.”
If your pharmacist is temporarily unable to accept unwanted medicines, follow the guidance below to make sure you store them safely at home until you can dispose of them via the pharmacy.
Keep unwanted medicines securely in a labelled box or sealed bag
Make sure they are out of the sight and reach of children and pets
Consider storing them in a garage or attic space, if you have one until they can be returned to the pharmacy
Don’t leave them near heat sources or running water
Remember that you can recycle any cardboard packaging and paper leaflets that come with your medicine – and look out for a new scheme launched by pharmaceutical company Sanofi in conjunction with Terracycle, under which empty medicine blister packs can be recycled at special bins in around 400 pharmacies across the UK.
Don’t take out-of-date medicines
If you do have out-of-date medicines in your house, don’t be tempted to take them even if you hate the idea of ‘wasting’ them, says Deborah Evans.
“At best, medicines that have passed their expiry date may not work as well. At worst, they might do you harm.
“If a label gives an expiry date stating a month and a year, don’t use the medicine after the end of that month – so if it expires June 2021, you shouldn’t take it after 30 June 2021.
“If it says ‘use by’ a certain date, that means you shouldn’t take it after the end of the previous month. So, for example, if it’s ‘use by’ June 2021, don’t take it after the end of May 2021.
“In addition, some medicines should not be used beyond a certain amount of time after they’ve been opened, even if they haven’t reached their expiry date.
“One example is eye drops. Unless the product says otherwise, all eye drops should be discarded within 28 days of opening because the bottle can become contaminated with bacteria and other microbes, resulting in an eye infection.
“You should always read the label and follow the instructions on any pack of over-the-counter medicine you buy.
“And if you have any questions or are uncertain about anything – whether it’s about disposal, expiry dates or any other issue – you can always ask your pharmacist for advice.