Business Waste
No.1 for medication disposal

How to Dispose of Old Medication

Disposing of medication that’s out of date, damaged, or unused must be done carefully and safely due to its hazardous, chemical, and toxic nature. You should never throw old medication away with your general waste, pour it down the drain, or flush it down the toilet. These actions can harm human and environmental health.

Instead, any businesses, organisations, and homes with expired or out-of-date medication should return old medicines to the supplier or consider another safe option. Proper disposal of medication avoids exposing their potentially toxic elements to humans and ground, air, and water supplies if they end up in landfill.

Find out how to dispose of old medication in this guide. Or for a free quote for collection and disposal of your old medication – contact us online or call 0800 211 8390.

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How to dispose of 
old medicines

To dispose of old medicines, you should return them to a pharmacy. They will accept out-of-date medication as well as unused and unopened ones – even if they’ve not expired. The pharmacy will then recycle and dispose of the medicines safely and legally in line with relevant UK legislation.

As a business, the supplier or pharmacy may offer a collection service for your unused or expired medication. This is important as getting rid of old medicines from your organisation will class as commercial waste, so you can’t return them like a consumer. Businesses can also arrange collection of pharmaceutical waste including old medicines by professional waste management companies.

You can recycle the packaging for any partly used medicines at home or at work. Place the outer cardboard box in your cardboard recycling bins and send any paper inserts or instructions for paper recycling. Households can recycle the cardboard box and any paper packaging in most domestic recycling bins.

half empty packets of tablets and pills.

How to get rid of old 
medication from a business

Any unused or out-of-date medication businesses or other organisations have class as commercial waste. To get rid of old medication from your business it must be removed from your premises by licensed waste carriers. Arranging pharmaceutical waste collection by a professional waste management company offers the easiest solution.

At Business Waste we provide free bins to store your old medication before removal by our licensed waste carriers – you just pay for collection. We’ll deliver a pharmaceutical waste bin with a black lid designed to store waste including out-of-date medication. Then one of our local licensed waste carriers will collect the waste at an agreed time.

They’ll transport it to a relevant nearby waste management facility for safe and efficient disposal and recycling. You’ll also receive a free duty of care certificate for peace of mind that your old medications are disposed of legally and safely.

Who needs disposal of 
unwanted medicines?

Many organisations require one-off or regular disposal of unwanted medicines. These range from private businesses to healthcare organisations. Common organisations that create medication waste and need commercial waste collection include:

  • Hospitals – to dispose of many expired or unused medications daily.
  • Care homes – old, excess, and unused prescription drugs for residents.
  • Dentists – painkillers and other medication for patients.
  • Schools – out-of-date children’s medicines such as Calpol.
  • Retail – expired and damaged medication such as paracetamol that retailers can’t sell.

When to dispose 
of medicine

At home, you should check your medicine cabinet at least every six months to ensure everything is still in date. Businesses and organisations also need to conduct regular stock checks and rotations of medications for sale or use by patients to avoid creating excess medicine waste. You should dispose of medicine when it:

  • Passes its expiration date
  • Exceeds the use-by date
  • Experiences damage to the protective packaging
  • Is leftover from a previous condition
  • Becomes excess as a patient no longer needs it
packets of pills.

How to dispose of 
medicine at home

To dispose of old tablets and other medicine at home you should always return them to a pharmacy first. Research by the Proprietary Association of Great Britain (PAGB) found 41% of people throw away over-the-counter medicines with their general waste. Only 36% of respondents said they return their expired medication to the pharmacy, which is the correct safe disposal method.

You should never throw away medicine in your household waste bin for two main reasons. Firstly, it could fall into the hands of children, which is dangerous if they ingest them. Secondly, the waste will likely end up in landfill where the potentially toxic elements from old medicines can leach into the ground, air, and water.

If you must dispose of medicine at home, you should follow these steps:

  • Throw away any empty tablet blister packs in your general waste bin.
  • Mix any tablets or capsules with dirt or other inedible substances – but do not crush the medication.
  • Place this mixture in sealable packaging – such as a container with a secure lid or tightly sealed plastic bag.
  • Follow the instructions on the medication packaging, leaflet, or insert for appropriate disposal. This can vary between medication types.
  • Recycle the cardboard box and any paper inserts in your household recycling bin.
How to recycle blister packs

Ways to reduce 
medicine waste

A staggering £300 million worth of medicine prescribed by the NHS is wasted each year in the UK. Plus, around 40% of Brits throw away medications from their homes annually, meaning up to 445 million prescriptions are binned in the UK each year. All this medicine waste uses extra energy and resources to dispose of it properly.

Cutting down on the disposal of old and unused medicines helps protect the planet and saves your business money. The easiest way to reduce medicine waste in your organisation is to have good stock management in place. Avoid over-ordering medicines and ensure regular rotation to ensure medicines don’t go out of date and end up being unused.

Secure and proper storage is also vital to stop any medicines from being damaged by people, weather, or other conditions. The same is true at home. Only buy the medicines you need rather than stocking up and place all medicines in a locked cabinet to keep them safe. This should help ensure medicines are used and fewer are thrown away.

Arrange disposal of 
unwanted medicines

Safely get rid of any unwanted medicines from your organisation with Business Waste. We provide free bins to safely store any type of medication on-site. You simply pay for collection and one of our licensed waste carriers will remove the waste at an agreed time, wherever you’re based in the UK.

They’ll take the bins to a nearby waste management facility for proper disposal of unwanted medicines following all legal and relevant legislation. You can book collections of old medicine as a one-off or on a daily, weekly, or fortnightly schedule if you create lots of medicine waste.

Contact us online or call 0800 211 8390 for a free quote for medicine waste collections based on the type and amount you produce.

full packets of pills and medication capsules.
free bins icon.

Get your free medicine waste disposal quote

Get a fast FREE quote for medicine waste collection

  • Free quote within 1 hr
  • Any type of medicine waste
  • FREE bins and delivery
  • We cover all of the UK

Medication disposal FAQs

  • PHARMACEUTICAL How do pharmacies dispose of medications?

    Waste contractors normally collect medicines from pharmacies and transport the old medications to a waste management facility. Here they’re treated based on their type – either chemically, thermally, biologically, or physically. Then the medicines are normally incinerated to destroy their hazardous nature. The incinerated remnants may finally be added to landfill.

  • PHARMACEUTICAL Can you burn old tablets?

    You should never burn old tablets. Throwing old tablets on a fire could release their toxic, chemical, and hazardous elements into the air. This can harm the health of anyone nearby and the environment. Instead, you should return any old tablets to your local pharmacy for disposal.

  • PHARMACEUTICAL Where can I donate unused medicine?

    Take any unused medicine back to a pharmacy. Some charities and food banks may also accept unused medicine. However, they’ll normally only take donations of unused medicine if there’s no damage to the packaging and it’s a full box of medication or tablets. It also depends on the type of medication. Check with the charity first as to whether they accept donations of unused medicine.

Learn more about 
medical waste disposal