Let's Talk Trash - Pill Disposal

Let’s Talk Trash October  2022 – Pill Disposal


    BC has a number of amazing product stewardship programs including one for medication. Initiated by the pharmaceutical and consumer health products industries, the BC Medications Return Program exists to help the public properly dispose of unused, expired or mysterious (ie missing labels or in questionable condition) health products, for free.

    Expired medications are considered hazardous waste. Traces of pharmaceuticals are found in soil and water and are now recognized as contaminants of emerging environmental concern. Concentration levels may be low but also high enough to have adverse effects on the environment. Effects that build up over time. 

    Drugs flushed down the toilet enter the waste water treatment system which is not designed to filter out the complex chemicals that make up today’s medications. Contaminated water negatively effects aquatic organisms, fish and other wildlife. Aquatic life is swimming in a cocktail of antidepressants, amphetamines, birth control, and antihistamines. Research shows that these compounds alter organisms and put ecosystems, drinking water, and human health at risk.

    Throwing medication in the garbage also has negative effects. Leachate, the rainwater that percolates through landfills and collects at the bottom, has been shown to contain anti-depressants, antibiotics, steroids, hormones, heart and asthma medications and painkillers. The rise of drug-resistant bacteria is a global problem that threatens to undermine the usefulness of critical antibiotics. Researchers have found that antibiotics flowing into streams via wastewater are giving rise to drug-resistant ‘superbugs’. This is not good news.

    If you have a septic field on Lasqueti you might be tempted to flush your old meds but anything that goes down the drain can end up in the water table and in local streams. All streams lead to the ocean.

    The best way to responsibly deal with your leftover or unwanted medications is to return them to a participating pharmacy. All prescription and non-prescription medications, health products, vitamin and mineral supplements, as well as anti-bacterial and anti-fungal creams, inhalers and patches are accepted. For oral dosage pills remove them from their original packaging (containers are recyclable, just black out any personal labels and take to the recycling depot) and pour them into a clear bag. Creams, liquids and powders stay in their packaging. Once your unwanted medications are in the care of the pharmacy they’ll be sent to a facility for certified incineration. 

    Needles and sharps like syringes can also be brought to participating pharmacies for safe disposal (call in advance to be sure).

    It’s important to keep medications out of the hands of children and others who might use them inappropriately as well as out of the soil and water. Unfortunately, there is no current system that includes pet medications. If you have leftovers, your best bet is to return them to the veterinarian. 

    Not all waste is created equal.  Medications may be small in size, but powerful in harmful effects. Think before you flush or toss seemingly innocent packs of pills or even vitamins.  It’s worth the time to do the responsible thing and deliver these to a participating pharmacy. 


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