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Wastewater & Onsite Systems | Pharmaceuticals and Personal Care Products (PPCPs)


What can I do about PPCPs?

Do not flush!
The flushing of unused or unwanted pharmaceuticals contributes to the amount of PPCPs in our waters. While impacts to human health are still being studied, it is known that fish and other aquatic wildlife are adversely affected by exposure to certain pharmaceuticals and personal care products in our water bodies. Many states and local governments as well as water organizations are increasingly advising citizens to stop flushing pharmaceuticals and promoting the use of takeback programs and trash as the proper disposal methods of unused or unwanted medicines.

The Federal Guidelines for the Proper Disposal of Prescription Drugs, provided by the Office of National Drug Control Policy, state: Do not flush prescription drugs down the toilet or drain unless the label or accompanying patient information specifically instructs you to do so. For information on drugs that should be flushed, read a PDF about prescription disposal on the FDA’s website.

Takeback events

A takeback event is a service, generally provided by a local organization, association, or municipality, in which unused pharmaceuticals are collected in a controlled environment at a specific, secure location. Unused or unwanted medications are collected, accounted for, and disposed of properly (generally by incineration). Takeback program and event organizers must adhere to various federal and state laws and regulations regarding drug collection and transportation. Alternatives to takeback events are mail-in programs by which patients can send their unused pharmaceuticals by mail to be properly disposed.

Both takeback and mail-in programs are an attractive alternative to flushing and disposing of unused medications in the trash as the pharmaceuticals do not ultimately find their way to wastewater streams or into the hands of potential abusers. However, while pharmaceutical takeback programs are increasing in popularity, events are generally not offered with consistently. Most programs are limited to specific audience (ie. residents of a certain municipality, county, or state) and take place at limited intervals, if not only once. Citizens are encouraged to take advantage of takeback programs if they are available in their area.

Please visit our Resources page for more information on state-specific policies, recommendations, procedures, etc.

Dispose in trash

If a takeback even is not available, it is recommended to dispose of unused or unwanted pharmaceuticals in the trash. Guidelines advise patients to remove prescription drugs from their original containers and, in a non-descript container, mix them with some undesirable substance such as used coffee grounds, kitty litter, dirt, or sawdust to further discourage their use and throw the mixture away in the trash.

For more information on take-back and mail-in programs:

Go-to-Guide for Safe Drug Take-Back (PSI)

Safe Medicine Disposal for ME Program

Northeast Recycling Council (NERC)

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