Think Before You Flush

Think Before You Flush

When was the last time you checked the expiration date on the medications in your medicine cabinet? Chances are, it has been a while. 

Now, before you begin tossing out all the old or unneeded prescription drugs, take a quick pause. What you do next could have a major impact on your local environment.


People mistakenly believe that disposing of medications down the toilet is a safe and efficient way of getting rid of the drugs. However, toilets, septic systems and wastewater treatment plants are designed to handle water, waste, and easily degradable toilet paper. Trash can interfere with the processes at wastewater treatment plants. Because of that, many have screening systems to filter sewage before treatment. 

Being able to easily access clean water daily is not a simple process. In fact, wastewater treatment is complex and affects everyone’s daily routines. According to the Environmental Protection Agency, wastewater treatment facilities in the United States process approximately 34 billion gallons of wastewater every single day! 

While water treatment plants can remove some chemicals, they are not designed to remove pharmaceuticals. Neither sewage wastewater treatment plants, septic systems or drinking water treatment plants are currently designed to completely remove pharmaceuticals from the water.

But how does medicine end up at wastewater treatment plants in the first place?

Sugar Land North Plant(...

Pharmaceuticals enter the water cycle through various sources, including drugs that pass through the human body or domestic animals that are not completely absorbed and byproducts of the pharmaceutical manufacturing process. 

While household disposal is one major contributor, a USGS study found that pharmaceutical manufacturing facilities can be a significant source of pharmaceuticals found in the environment, including local waterways. Pharmaceuticals that are found in water sources can also be traced back to agricultural use, including medications used on livestock.

The USGS states that more than 4,000 prescription medications used for humans and animals ultimately find their way into the environment, especially local bodies of water. As these chemicals make their way into aquatic environments, they can affect the health and behavior of wildlife, including insects, fish and birds. Research shows that while there may be ecological harm when certain drugs are present, so far, no evidence has been found of human health effects. 

An effective way to reduce the amount of chemicals in our water is by curbing household disposal of pharmaceuticals into our water systems. On Saturday, Oct. 23, you will be able to drop off those unwanted medications with professionals who will dispose of them safely and properly. The disposal services are free and anonymous for consumers, with no questions asked.

The effort is part of “National Take Back Day” conducted by the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration (DEA) and other government and public safety officials. 

There will be several sites located across Texas and the country where you can drop off old medicine between 10 a.m. and 2 p.m. Oct. 23. If you have old medicine that you need to dispose of, find a collection site near you by clicking here and typing in your Zip Code. You can also dispose of medications by taking them to a local pharmacy. You can find a year-round drop-off locations here. 

Fortunately, you do not need to become a wastewater expert to know what not to put down the drain. By properly disposing of your prescribed medications, you can help conserve your local water resources and protect environmental health for years to come.  You can learn more about how wastewater is cleaned by clicking here.