Improving options for pharmaceutical waste disposal

Pharmaceutical waste optionsThe inappropriate disposal of prescription medication is a huge area of concern. The compounds and chemicals from our prescriptions and over-the-counter medications pollute our water supply when we flush them down the toilet or dump them in the garbage. When not disposed of properly, the chemicals and heavy metals these drugs often contain can remain in our water supply, harming aquatic life and human health. Also, when left in medicine cabinets they are a large contributor to the growing drug epidemic that is impacting families and our youth.

In Wisconsin,

  • A recent study by UW-Milwaukee School of Freshwater Sciences showed high levels of pharmaceutical compounds in Lake Michigan—the source of drinking water for millions of Wisconsinites. The presence of these drugs in our drinking water threatens our health and the ecosystem.
  • Drug overdose is the leading cause of accidental death in Milwaukee County, and increasingly, unused prescription medications are children’s initial introduction to drug use.

Some communities already provide safe options for pharmaceutical waste disposal by holding drug recycling events or sponsoring disposal bins. However, these policies are voluntary and inconsistent, and this means only a sliver of old medicines are safely disposed of. Moreover, the costs of these programs are strapped onto strained local governments and burden Wisconsin taxpayers even more.

To establish better disposal systems, Clean Wisconsin advocates for policies that would make drug manufacturers responsible for recycling programs. Manufacturer-led disposal policies have proven to be convenient and accessible for consumers and keep harmful pollutants out of our waterways. Clean Wisconsin helped pass a similar, successful manufacturer-sponsored initiative for electronic waste into law into 2009, and we hope to bring such an initiative for pharmaceutical waste to Wisconsin in the near future.

Now, Clean Wisconsin is helping to lead an exciting initiative that will empower people to responsibly dispose of their unused prescription drugs through convenient drop-off boxes located across the city—the Take Back Your Meds Program. This initiative will help to make it more convenient for people to drop off their old prescriptions — to keep the drugs safely away from our drinking water and out of the hands of those who might abuse them.

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