How to Dispose of Medicine Containers

After a medication has been used, or expired, the medicine container must be disposed of properly according to the Office of National Drug Control Policy in Washington, DC. Simply throwing containers in the garbage that may contain medication residue can potentially harm our water supply, damage water resources and the environment. Take a few minutes to prepare medicine containers for disposal, safeguarding our environment and your privacy.

Collect Old Medications

Clean out bathroom medicine cabinets and other areas where medications are stored. Look over each prescription and over-the-counter medication for an expiration date. These are often printed on the label, or base of the container. When a date is illegible or not printed on the container, assume it is old. Many medications expire after one year. If you know you haven’t used a particular medication for a few years, throw it out.

Check for Pet Medications

If you have pets, check their prescribed and over-the-counter medications for use by dates. Pain medications prescribed after surgery, vitamins and antibiotics can expire. If you have been saving these medications for the next time they may be needed, toss them. Expired medication can make a pet sick. Seek veterinary guidance each time your pet requires medication.

Dispose of Old Medication

Remove any expired or unused medication from its container. Place the medication in a small sandwich size plastic bag. Add an undesirable item to the bag such as used coffee grounds or wet cat litter. Mix the medication with the substance so they cannot be retrieved and re-used. Throw the sealed bag in the trash.

Maintain Your Privacy

Peel off or obscure the label on prescription medication containers. Use fingernails to peel off the prescription label or mark over the confidential data with a black permanent marker if the label is difficult to remove. Draw lines though the patient’s name, address, pharmacy details, medication name and order number.

Dispose of the Container

Place the medication container in a disposable container. Use a container with a lid, such as an old butter dish or cottage cheese tub. Seal the medication bottle in the container, and place it in the trash.

Take out the trash. Remove the garbage bag from the home, placing it in an outside receptacle. Place a lid on the outside container, so wild animals cannot get into the garbage and ingest the disposed medications or containers.

Protect the Environment

Consider taking old medication containers to a local hazardous wastes disposal event sponsored by city or county governmental agencies. Call your local city hall for information about local programs.

The Environmental Protection Agency considers medicine containers for veterinary medication, human prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications and vitamin bottles to be “pharmaceuticals and personal care products as pollutants” and should be disposed of according to federal guidelines created by the Office of National Drug Control Policy.

Do not flush any medications or their container down the toilet unless specifically directed on the medication’s package or patient information sheet included with the medication. Disposing of medication in the sewer system can contaminate the local water supply.


  • Office of National Drug Control Policy: How to Dispose of Prescription Drugs
  • Earth911: Recycling Mystery – Medication

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