How to dispose of leftover medications safely


Here's a hint: Don't flush them down the toilet.

There are probably a few products lying around your practice that you no longer use. And you'd like to toss them, but you're not sure how to do it properly. Most chemicals used in veterinary practices are pretty mild, but you still need to pitch them safely. Here are five options for getting rid of dust-gathering products:

1 Donate. If the product hasn't expired and it's still useable, find a local animal shelter or another business that could use it instead of throwing it out.

2 Recycle. Many communities have recycling centers or hazardous waste days when you can drop off unwanted or expired cleaning products and other low-hazard materials. Recycling is mandated for many "heavy metal" products such as mercury or radiographic fixer solutions.

3 Transform. Some materials are hazardous in one form but not another. For instance, latex paint is a hazard in its liquid state but inert when dry, so pouring it out on a piece of cardboard and letting it dry makes it suitable for disposal in the trash. Also, some materials like alcohol or ethylene oxide become diluted when they're evaporated or released into a well-ventilated area.

4 Contain and discard. Unused drugs or medications can't be recycled and aren't suitable for transformation, but because they're low-hazard items—in very small quantities—you can toss them in the trash. Don't flush them down the toilet or dump them in the drain. Most wastewater treatment facilities remove organic pathogens, not chemicals. Flushing chemicals ensures they'll wind up in the water supply.

Contain dry materials in trash bags and discard small quantities in the trash. Put tablets or capsules in a zipper bag and add a small amount of water so they dissolve. Seal the baggie and toss it in the trash. For liquid medications, put cat litter or absorbent towels inside a zipper bag and squirt or pour the medication into the absorbent, then place the bag in the trash.

5 Contract. If none of the other options are viable because of the product or because you have a large quantity—more than five gallons—using a chemical waste treatment company is the answer. Search the Internet or look in the telephone directory under "waste removal" for local companies.

You must also observe local disposal regulations, so contact your municipal waste management authority for guidance.

Phil Seibert, CVT, is an author, speaker, and consultant with SafetyVet in Calhoun, Tenn. Send questions or comments to

Related Videos
Aaron Smiley, DVM
© 2023 MJH Life Sciences

All rights reserved.