Green Tips For Cleaning Out Your Medicine Cabinet

by heather

Ok, raise your hand if you haven’t cleaned out your medicine cabinet or closet in one year or more. How

art courtesy of

art courtesy of

about two years? Do we have three?

Don’t worry, I’m not here to judge. It’s been about a year for me. I know for a fact I have at least two expired bottles of cough medicine sitting in there right now.

I saw them yesterday and almost pulled them out, but stopped when I realized I didn’t know what to do with them. Do I toss them? If I pour the medicine down the drain and recycle the bottles, won’t that end up in our water supply somehow?

This is how a blog post is born. And, here’s what I found out when it comes to how to clean out your medicine cabinet in an eco-conscious way.

The Medicine Problem

First of all, No Drugs Down The Drain cites a study done by the U.S. Geological Survey, who surveyed 139 streams and found medication residue in over 80% of the samples.

How does this harm local wildlife? Well, it’s not good. The Environmental Protection Agency (as quoted on the site) says:

“The major concerns to date regarding the presence of medications in surface water bodies have been increased bacterial resistance to antibiotics and interference with growth and reproduction in aquatic organisms such as fish and frogs. Aquatic organisms are sensitive to low levels of exposure and are particularly vulnerable when exposure occurs during developmentally sensitive times such as before birth and during juvenile stages of growth.

Effects of exposure can include a gender ratio imbalance (e.g. more females than males within a given population); intersex conditions (the presence of both male and female reproductive organs within an individual organism); poor egg hatching success; decreased fertility and growth; and altered behavior (e.g. lethargy and disorientation).”

So, if that doesn’t convince you that flushing your meds isn’t a good idea, I don’t know what will.

What To Do With Old Medicine

Thankfully, there are several ways to safely get rid of your old medicine.

One of the easiest is to visit Earth911 has a searchable database at the top of their site that allows you to search for eco-friendly drop off sites for all your stuff. All you have to do is type is “medicine” and your zip code, and a list of green recycling sites will come up.

If nothing comes up in your area (my closest drop off site was 8 hours away…) then you’ve got some options.

The Office of National Drug Control Policy recommends that you put your medications in a bag or can, and mix with kitty litter or coffee grounds. Once it’s sealed, throw it in the garbage, ideally a can that can’t be reached by pets or children.

However, the FDA advises that this list of drugs be flushed:

Actiq (fentanyl citrate)
Daytrana Transdermal Patch (methylphenidate)
Duragesic Transdermal System (fentanyl)
OxyContin Tablets (oxycodone)
Avinza Capsules (morphine sulfate)
Baraclude Tablets (entecavir)
Reyataz Capsules (atazanavir sulfate)
Tequin Tablets (gatifloxacin)
Zerit for Oral Solution (stavudine)
Meperidine HCl Tablets
Percocet (Oxycodone and Acetaminophen)
Xyrem (Sodium Oxybate)
Fentora (fentanyl buccal tablet)

Now, I have been unable to find out why the FDA advises flushing these particular drugs. My hunch is that they’re worried about children fishing these drugs out of the garbage and ingesting them, which is a legitimate concern. However, I don’t know if the FDA weighed the environmental costs of flushing them.

I’m going to keep searching, but I wanted to include this list so you can make your own decision.

Harvard Health Publication’s Two Cents…

This article from Harvard Health Publications had some good ideas. They recommend asking your pharmacist to see if they can take medications back for safe disposal.

They also recommend disposing of medications by following these steps:

  • Keep them in their original, watertight container
  • Add water and flour to the jar
  • Scratch off the label
  • Hide the vial in a butter tub
  • Then throw it out

If it were me I’d skip the butter tub, but otherwise it seems like a good idea to keep medicines in their original container.

And What About Cough Syrup And Other Liquids?

Mixing cough syrup with kitty litter is the best way to dispose of it safely. Which, is what I’m about to go do right now…

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