Homeowner Helpers: Disposing of out-of-date medications

When was the last time you checked your medicine cabinet or kitchen cupboard for out-of-date medications? You know — that bottle of old cough medicine, those antibiotics you never quite finished, the long-expired eye ointment for your dog.

Prescriptions, over-the-counter drugs and even natural health products can all pose a health hazard to children and others.

However, they also need to be disposed of safely. Here’s how to do it.

  • Check the label for special disposal instructions. This is particularly important for very dangerous products like fentanyl patches (you should never allow these products to sit around, unused).
  • Take your unused or expired prescriptions and other medications and products to your pharmacy. You can return your unused and expired medications to any pharmacy in Canada any day of the year, according to Health Canada.
  • Animal medications should be returned to your veterinarian.
  • Under no circumstances should you dispose of medicine in the toilet or sink or simply dump it outside. The rapid expansion of human and veterinary drugs in recent years — and the improper disposal of them — means traces are now showing up in the environment, according to Health Canada. While those amounts are still low, we don’t know the cumulative dangers to the environment or human health.
  • If you must dispose of medication in the garbage, which should be a last resort: Remove medication from the original container and scratch out any information on the label that identifies you; conceal the medication in coffee grounds, kitty litter or other unappealing material to make it less attractive to humans and animals; place the material in a closed bag or other container to prevent it from leaking, and put it in your garbage.

Something to remember when it comes to waste: The folks who collect it can be injured if you’re careless with your disposal. As one waste collections operator with the City of Ottawa says, I’ve seen guys stuck with needles that have been thrown in with regular garbage, poked with nails from renovation materials, or cut by broken glass.

“I’ve been sliced with razor blades thrown into a plastic bag, and once I came in contact with chlorine gas when someone dumped pool chemicals into their household garbage. It’s really important for residents to properly dispose of hazardous waste like sharp items, chemicals and combustibles and not throw them into their regular garbage.”

Originally published May 21, 2019


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