Safely Disposing of Expired and Leftover Medications is Easy

Medicine Cabinet with Over-the-Counter and Prescription Medicines

Is your medicine cabinet crammed with expired over-the-counter medications and leftover prescription drugs? If so, it is easy to dispose of them safely.

Recently, as part of my household decluttering and minimizing project, I cleared out and then cleaned our bathroom medicine cabinets, drawers, and cupboards. During this process, I used a cardboard box to collect expired over-the-counter medications like cough syrup and allergy pills and prescription drugs left over from my treatment for breast cancer.

Flushing these medications down the toilet or tossing them in the trash did not seem like an environmentally friendly disposal method so I searched online for a solution.

I learned about how keeping expired and unneeded medications on hand can be dangerous for people in your household and how flushing medications down the toilet can contaminate water and harm aquatic wildlife.

I was pleasantly surprised to discover that I could safely dispose of my unwanted medications at the pharmacy in the small town where I live, so that is what I did.

It was easy. I took my cardboard medication collection box to the pharmacy, gave it to one of the store clerks, and she dumped it in the medication disposal kiosk.

You too can keep yourself and your family (including pets) safe by periodically clearing out your medicine cabinet of expired and leftover medications and disposing of them in a safe and environmentally friendly way.

Why Should You Get Rid of Expired and Leftover Medications?

It may seem like having expired and leftover medications in your medicine cabinet in no big deal. However, it could be.

Here are some reasons for getting rid of unneeded medications.

  • Taking someone else’s medication on purpose or accidentally ingesting it can lead to overdose, poisoning, and even death (even things like cough syrup can be abused). Anyone with access to your medicine cabinet including visitors can take your medications.
  • Unintentionally taking expired medications or mixing incompatible medications can be harmful.
  • A cluttered medicine cabinet makes it more difficult to find the current and correct medications you may need.

Why not Flush Medications down the Toilet or Toss them in the Trash?

You may not realize that wastewater treatment facilities are not designed to remove pharmaceuticals flushed down the toilet or drain. These substances can pass through the water treatment process and end up in lakes, streams, oceans, aquifers, and groundwater. Traces of painkillers, antibiotics, hormones, anti-depressants, and other drugs can harm aquatic wildlife and even end up in your drinking water.

Medications tossed in the trash can present problems too. People and pets can retrieve them either on purpose or accidentally. Medications that are sent landfills can leach into the soil and cause contamination.

With a little effort, you can get rid of your unwanted medications without flushing them down the toilet or tossing them in the trash.

Medication Disposal Programs

Although, there is no national medication disposal program, there are programs all across the country. Partnerships between pharmacies, municipal waste management authorities, and law enforcement agencies make these programs possible.

Medicine Disposal Kiosk at Cambria Drug & Gift Pharmacy
Medicine Disposal Kiosk at Cambria Drug & Gift Pharmacy

This is how they work.

Programs do vary by municipality, county, or state but usually involve going to a pharmacy, police station, or other location and putting your medications in a collection kiosk or obtaining a special envelope and mailing them to a collection facility.

There may be special handling requirements for disposing of controlled substances (medications that require a paper prescription, like Vicodin).

After being collected through these various programs, unwanted medications are picked up and transported to waste facilities where they are destroyed, often by being incinerated.

National Take-Back Initiative

The DEA Diversion Control Division offers periodic take-back events where you can drop off your medications at a designated location on a specific day.

The next national event is scheduled for Saturday, April 29, 2017, from 10:00 a.m. to 2:00 p.m.

After April 1, you can visit the National Take-Back Initiative website to search for a drop-off location near you.

I hope that you are convinced that clearing out your medicine cabinet and getting rid of expired and leftover medications is a good idea and that disposing of them in an environmentally safe manner is worth a little extra effort.

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Make Thanksgiving Count

Thanksgiving Pecan and Pumpkin Pies

This Thanksgiving, enjoy feasting on your favorite holiday foods, be thankful for your family and friends, and make sure you eat all your leftovers.

Last week, with Thanksgiving approaching, I was contemplating what to write about this year. In previous posts, I covered the green aspects of the first Thanksgiving, Black Friday consumerism, and reflected on green things I believe in, use, or do.

This year, instead of trying to decide which stuffing recipe to prepare, I was speculating about things like how much uneaten food Americans scrape off their Thanksgiving plates into the garbage disposal or how many tons of leftovers we toss in the trash after a week or so of moldering in the back of our refrigerators.

While Thanksgiving meal planners across the country were weighing menu options, wondering where to place Uncle Joe at the dining table, and considering whether to bake both a pumpkin and a pecan pie, I was thinking about overconsumption and food waste.

I know weird, right. I was not always like this.

Anyways, I decided to entitle my blog post Thanksgiving – Lose the Leftovers and proceeded to write several hundred words aimed at convincing you and other readers to strive for a Thanksgiving meal with just enough to eat and no leftovers.

Fortunately, my family saved me from myself. This is how they did it.

My Family Saves Thanksgiving

My Mother had left me a voice mail during the day while I was diligently typing away and ignoring my phone. After finishing the rough draft, I called my Mother back and told her what I was writing about for Thanksgiving.

Her response was immediate and passionate. A lot of people, she claimed, get joy from cooking a big delicious Thanksgiving meal for their loved ones. People should be enjoying time with their families and not worrying about food waste. Besides, leftovers are an important part of Thanksgiving. My points about overconsumption and food waste fell on deaf ears; she assured me that she would have a lot to say in the post’s comment section.

Thankfully, at this point, my spouse rang the dinner triangle (yes, we do have one, made by our son Eric) so I told my Mother I loved her and hung up.

Feeling slightly deflated, but still righteous about my topic, I sat down for dinner and told my family about my conversation with my Mother. It did not go well.

My older son, Eric, immediately agreed with Grandma Joan. He looks forward to eating leftovers after Thanksgiving and would never waste them. My younger son, Adam, said that Thanksgiving is the worst day to try to get people to think about food waste. Thanksgiving is about feasting and enjoyment, not about tackling the world’s problems. The conversation continued downhill from there.

After dinner, I began washing the dishes, mulling over my family’s comments. While I was wiping down the kitchen countertops, I realized that they were right. Thanksgiving is the ideal day to feast and overindulge because it only occurs once a year. We can be mindful of not wasting food the rest of the year. My environmental zeal had gotten the best of me. Writing a post about food waste for Thanksgiving was probably not the best idea.

I am grateful to my frank and loving family for giving me honest feedback. Now, I have no choice but to embrace Thanksgiving and make it count.

Make Thanksgiving Count

This Thanksgiving I am going to enjoy having both my sons at home for the first time in eight years, eat two pieces of pie, go for a walk, play games, and be thankful for my wonderful family who gives me tough love when I need it.

Dear readers, this is my Thanksgiving wish for you.

Delight in feasting on a Thanksgiving meal with all the trimmings. Relish eating two pieces of pie. Leave the dirty dishes on the kitchen counter and go for a walk with your friends and family or play a game or just talk. Be thankful for people and wild things and the beautiful planet we all call home. Eat and savor every morsel of the leftovers in your refrigerator.

Happy Thanksgiving!

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America Recycles Day – Aluminum Cans and E-Waste

Recyclable Items Poster - America Recycles Day

This year, for the 20th annual America Recycles Day on November 15, 2016, be an eco-hero by forgoing aluminum beverage cans and tackling your e-waste.

I believe this, that, or the other thing “days” or such and such “months” can be informative and inspiring, motivating us to take meaningful actions related to the theme. For instance, Earth Day in 1970 helped launch the modern environmental movement and the proliferation of pink ribbons each October during Breast Cancer Awareness month has surely brought awareness to the issue.

What about America Recycles Day?

America Recycles Day

The first thing you see when you visit the America Recycles Day webpage is an opportunity to enter the sweepstakes drawing for a gift card.

You can use Google Maps to look for an event, join 67,464 other people in making a pledge to start recycling plastic bottles or watch a one-minute I Want to be Recycled video that follows a plastic bottle’s arduous journey to become a plastic bench overlooking the ocean.

The online store offers America Recycles Day booth canopies, flutter flags, and merchandise, like t-shirts, buttons, and pencils made out of newspapers.

Hmmm. Is America Recycles Day promoting recycling or shopping? Buying stuff to later recycle it doesn’t make sense to me.

Aluminum Beverage Can Challenge

Bales of Crushed Aluminum Cans Awaiting Recycling – Photo: West Boylston, MAHere is an aluminum beverage can challenge for you to consider doing for America Recycles Day.

Picture yourself grabbing an ice-cold aluminum Coke can from the cooler at your local mini mart, guzzling down its contents, and responsibly tossing the empty can in the recycle bin outside the store.

With your thirst quenched, you are feeling good about being a conscientious recycler, right?

Yes, but you could do more.

You probably know that aluminum is a valuable and highly recyclable material, but do you know what is involved in making and later recycling an aluminum beverage can? I did not until I looked into it and found out that aluminum cans have a significant environmental footprint.

Mining and refining bauxite (a major source of aluminum) and smelting aluminum is immensely energy intensive, uses large amounts of water, and generates air, water, and soil pollution. Making aluminum can be harmful to workers and the people who live near mining, refining, or smelting operations. Making the cans and later recycling them involves using additional resources, electricity, and water.

To make matters worse, Americans only recycle 55.1% of our aluminum beer and soda cans, meaning 44.9% end up by the side of the road or in a landfill.

Regardless of whether you recycle the can or not, it seems to me that using aluminum to make single-use disposable beverage cans is not a good idea.

If you agree, take the challenge below.

American Recycles Day Challenge – eliminate the need for recycling aluminum cans by not purchasing them in the first place.

E-Waste Recycling Challenge

E-Waste Dropped Off During Earth Day Event - Photo: Cal Recycle 160

Below is an e-waste recycling challenge for you to consider doing for America Recycles Day.

All across the country, city agencies, companies, and community organizations offer electronic waste drop-off recycling events on America Recycles Day and at other times throughout the year.

Imagine this scenario. You can finally get rid of your broken laser printer, an e-reader you never use, a 3-year old desktop computer, a collection of cell phones, and an obsolete game console. You load everything in your car and drive to the drop off location where helpful volunteers take custody of your surplus electronics.

Whew. You are feeling relieved to get this stuff out of your closet or garage and off your hands.

By recycling your unused and unwanted electronics you are enabling the valuable and sometimes rare materials they contain to be retrieved and later used to make new devices, reducing the need for mining and manufacturing new materials which can be harmful to people and the environment (ditto aluminum above).

In addition, keeping electronics out of your local landfill prevents toxic materials like mercury from leaching out of broken computer monitors into the ground and polluting your groundwater basin.

It’s all good, right?

Maybe, but ask yourself these questions.

Was there something wrong with my 3-year old desktop computer, or the cell phones, or the game console other than they are not the latest models? Do I feel compelled to replace my electronic devices when a new model comes out? If so, why?

Recycling an electronic device that is in good working order only to turn around and buy a new one just creates more future e-waste.

If the above scenario rings true for you,  take the challenge below.

America Recycles Day Challenge – do drop off our unused and unwanted electronic devices at an e-waste collection event. Then resist the urge to buy a new device.

The Bottom Line

An important and often overlooked aspect of recycling is reducing the need for recycling in the first place.

I acknowledge that change is difficult. It is also rewarding.

If you stop picking up a six-pack of beer in aluminum cans on the way home from work or buying a new cell phone every year, then there is nothing to be recycled.

Now you are an eco-hero.

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