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How should I dispose of old medicines?

Mohommed Essop-Adam
Reviewed by Mohommed Essop-AdamReviewed on 30.10.2023 | 3 minutes read

 If your medicine cabinet is full of old medicines that are out of date or that you no longer need to take, you may be wondering how to dispose of them correctly. Although it may be tempting to throw them in the bin or flush them down the toilet for the sake of convenience, doing so can be harmful and should be avoided. Therefore, we have created this article to help you understand how to dispose of old medicines safely and why this is important.

How should I dispose of old medicines?

If you have any old medicines lying around, you should take them to your local pharmacy to be disposed of safely. They will sort through your medicines and send them off for incineration. If there is any confidential information on your old medicines, such as labels containing your name or address, they will put this in a confidential waste bin for secure disposal.


Before taking your old medicines, a member of the pharmacy team will ask if you are disposing of any controlled drugs, as these need to be disposed of separately from regular medicines. If you are disposing of a controlled drug, you may be asked to provide some details such as your name, address and relationship to the patient of the medicine (if it was not yours) for the pharmacy’s records. Controlled drugs are medicines that have the potential to be abused, and some of them need to be destroyed before disposal. Pharmacies have special kits to do this.

What about sharps & needles?

Sharp medical supplies need to be disposed of in a sharps bin. Sharps include needles, syringes, broken glass, finger pricking devices such as lancets and clippers used to detach needles and the sharp part of syringes. Sharps bins are available on prescription. If you need one, you should speak to your doctor. You can also buy sharps bins from a pharmacy or other online retailers. 


Sharps bin disposal varies depending on where you live. You should speak to your local council to establish what arrangements are available in your area. You may also be able to take your sharps bin to your local pharmacy or doctor's surgery. For safety, you should make sure your sharps bin is fully sealed before disposal, and do not fill it above the maximum capacity line.

What are the dangers of disposing of medicines incorrectly?

Disposing of old medicines at home instead of taking them to a pharmacy can be problematic. Putting old medicines in the bin or flushing them down the toilet can pollute the environment and harm humans, animals and aquatic life.

Putting controlled drugs in bins rather than taking them to a pharmacy could lead to these addictive drugs falling into the wrong hands.

Putting sharps in a regular bin can be dangerous as it can cause needle-stick injuries to those sorting the waste. Also, in worst-case scenarios, it is possible for blood-borne viruses like HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C to spread via contact with sharps contaminated with infected blood.

Can I use a medicine that is out of date?

No, you should never use a medicine that is out of date. This is because the safety and effectiveness of the medicine can no longer be guaranteed by the manufacturer. Using a medicine that is out of date can be dangerous because medicines can become less effective than usual after they have expired, which can lead to an ineffective treatment outcome. This is especially a concern for lifesaving medications such as EpiPens.

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Mohommed Essop-Adam
Reviewed by Mohommed Essop-Adam
Reviewed on 30.10.2023
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