Proper disposal of pharmaceutical waste

Pharmaceutical waste arises both in households and in health care facilities. It consists of expired medications and medications that are no longer needed. Pharmaceutical waste is hazardous waste that must be disposed of properly. If it ends up in the wrong place, hazardous waste may cause harm to health or the environment.

Do not dispose of pharmaceutical waste with mixed household waste or through the sewage system. The correct and safe way to dispose of pharmaceutical waste is returning it to a pharmacy. Pharmacies accept household pharmaceutical waste without charge. Pharmacies deliver it to a hazardous waste treatment facility, where used for energy recovery.

Medication disposal schemes in order to prevent pharmaceuticals from ending up in the environment may vary from country to country. For additional and local information, turn to your pharmacy. 

To return pharmaceuticals for disposal:

  • Check the contents of your medicine cabinet regularly and remove expired medication or medication you know will not be used
  • For privacy, remove any labels containing patient data (such as patient information stickers) from prescription drugs
  • Tablets and capsules
    • Tablets and capsules in blister packs are returned in their original packaging. Empty blister packages belong in mixed waste.
    • Tablets and capsules in glass or plastic bottles should be removed from the original packaging. Place them without package in a transparent plastic bag and take to a pharmacy. Empty glass bottles belong in glass recycling and metal caps in metal recycling. Empty plastic containers should be disposed of in plastic recycling with caps off or, if plastic recycling is not available, as energy or mixed waste.
  • Liquid medications should be returned in their original packaging
  • Iodine-containing medications and cytostatic drugs (used in cancer treatment) should always be kept in their original containers and separate from other pharmaceutical waste when returning them to a pharmacy.
  • Injection syringes and needles should be separated and packaged securely, for example in an impenetrable plastic container or glass jar.
  • Easyhaler
    • A used inhalator still contains a small amount of the drug, so it should be returned to a pharmacy
    • The laminate pouch that protected the Easyhaler device belongs in energy or mixed waste
    • The protective cover that can be used with several products belongs in energy or mixed waste
  • Cardboard packaging should be taken to carton recycling and patient information leaflets in paper recycling

Please note! Vitamins, nutritional dietary supplements, emollient creams and cosmetic products are not hazardous waste. They should not be returned to a pharmacy. Empty plastic packaging is preferably sorted into plastic recycling, caps and containers separated, or if that is not available, treated as energy or mixed waste. If the cap contains metal, it belongs in metal recycling.