Facing the consequences: Why flushing pills is not the solution

Facing the consequences: Why flushing pills is not the solution

Chances are, you are not alone in having old or expired prescription drugs stocked in your home’s medicine cabinet. 

But before you decide to get rid of them, consider the environmental impact of your disposal methods. 

Despite common misconceptions, it is not safe to dispose of medications by flushing them down the toilet. In fact, if it’s not waste or toilet paper, it shouldn’t be flushed down the toilet at all.

Wastewater treatment plants play a critical role in protecting public health and the environment by removing contaminants from wastewater before it is discharged back into the water system or reused.  And while wastewater treatment plants can remove some chemicals, some wastewater treatment plants, septic systems, or drinking water treatment plants are not currently designed to completely remove pharmaceuticals from the water.
An effective way to reduce the amount of chemicals in our water is by curbing household disposal of pharmaceuticals into our water systems.

On Oct. 28, 2023, you’ll be able to drop off those unwanted and expired medications with professionals who will dispose of them safely and properly. The disposal services are free and anonymous, with no questions asked.

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

These Take Back events are held twice a year. In April 2023, almost 4,500 different law enforcement agencies participated in helping to collect 332 tons of medications. 

The typical American medicine cabinet is full of unused and expired drugs, of which only a fraction are disposed of properly, according to Harvard Health Publishing. And there is quite a bit of evidence of pharmaceuticals in the water affecting aquatic life, particularly fish, according to Harvard.

If you have old medicine in need of disposal, you can find a collection site nearby by clicking here and typing in your Zip Code. Many local pharmacies will also take medications. And if you miss the event on Oct. 28, you can find year-round drop-off locations here.

“In homes that use septic tanks, prescription and over-the-counter drugs flushed down the toilet can leach into the ground and seep into groundwater,” according to the Environmental Protection Agency. “In cities and towns where residences are connected to wastewater treatment plants, prescription and over-the-counter drugs poured down the sink or flushed down the toilet can pass through the treatment system and enter rivers and lakes. They may flow downstream to serve as sources for community drinking water supplies.”

Reduce your pharmaceutical footprint in the environment and help protect our waterways. Use drug take-back programs, and don’t flush unused medications.