Friday, April 18, 2008

Green Friday: Disposing of Medications

Due to popular demand (well, Margerie), on Fridays I share some ideas for how to lessen our impact on the environment. But I don't have a PhD in this, so please share your own ideas with me!

As part of my “Enough garbage, already!” month, I weeded our medicine box of expired medications. This brings up the question of what to do with them. We used to be told to mush them up and put them in the garbage or to flush them down the toilet so no kids or animals would accidentally ingest them.

However, recent studies have found traces of medications in the water of cities all over North America. In fact, although this has been big news lately, it’s not new news. Back in 2004, the Vancouver Sun reported on a study that found traces of nine drugs, including Prozac, in drinking water plants in Ontario, and mentioned that the US and European countries had been studying this issue longer than Canada had.

Nobody knows what effects the long-term exposure to traces of medications in the water, soil, and, potentially, the food supply could have on our health, not to mention on the health of wildlife, or whether throwing antibiotics away could contribute to the development of antibiotic-resistant bacteria. Some experts say there’s no need to worry, but we’ve heard that about pesticides, hormones, and plastic, all of which are a cause for concern now. So, to me, it makes sense to look for safer ways to get rid of those bottles that have been collecting in the back of your medicine cabinet.

This year, the 21 municipalities of the Metro Vancouver area banned the disposal of any kind of medications in the garbage. Here in BC, we’ve been lucky enough to have a free medication return program since the 1990s. You can bring expired or unused prescription and over-the-counter medications to almost any pharmacy (95% of the province’s pharmacies participate) for safe disposal. In 2006, almost 20 tons of medication were kept out of the landfills and the water through this program. I bet the potential is much higher, since a lot of people here don’t even know the program exists.

When we lived in California for a few years, I assumed I could do the same thing there, but when I asked, the pharmacists looked at me like I was crazy (I'm sure I looked crazy, since I'd just finished grocery shopping with a toddler and a baby in tow) and told me to flush them. Things are changing, though, and medication return programs like this one are popping up all over. If you don’t have a program in your area, find out if you can dispose of medications through your city’s hazardous waste program. If you live in Canada, you can find information on how to dispose of medications at the Medications Return Program website.

If you want to read more about this issue, here are a couple of resources:
US Environmental Protection Agency: Pharmaceutical and Personal Care Products
Health Canada: Proper Use and Disposal of Medication


Hayley Townley, Breast Cancer Survivor Extraordinaire! said...

I guess doctor's orders that we take them until they are gone fall on deaf ears all over the world.

Prozac in the drinking water. Might do some people some good.

We actually had to get rid of Tim's moms medications when she passed away (trust me, there were lots). Nobody had any good solution other than to toss them.

Thanks for sharing.

Sandy said...

Interesting. First I want to say NO ONE should any antiobiotics left over to worry about proper disposal. When you are prescribed an antiobiotic, you're suppose to take the full amount prescribed. Not doing so is medically not a good idea, and I've been told is what leads to people being allergic to medications. Other meds I don't believe thats the case, and so how to gid rid of them is a good question. How forward thinking of Canada to do this bring back program. I'm not aware of anything remotely that worthwhile here in the States. And sadly since the medical community has strong lobyist that keep fighting decent health care programs for everyone would imagine it to be some time before something like this hits the states. Kudos Canada!!

I'vwe always just put my in trash, and will continue to do so, as we have no alternatives. I've never been told to flush them and wouldn't want to do that, older communities have enough problems with plumbing backing up and clean water supplies. Our landfills aren't suppose to biodegrade, so it should be less of a problem in the landfill then in the toilet. We know that water gets reused.

Interesting post!

Stop by for a visit, and have a great weekend.


Margerie said...

OK now I am going to have to look in the depths of my medicine cabinet. Scary! And to think- before cancer I had no prescriptions for ANYTHING! And sometimes you just can't finish your antibiotics for medical reasons. Trust me, I know.

Thanks for all the good info. We have a septic so I am guessing my leach fields will be happy, pain and germ-free if I flush them. I will probably do the dissolve in something nasty and seal up with duct tape method.

And your CA pharmacist was confused- because we usually just sell our extras on the street ;)