There are numerous laws surrounding pharmaceutical waste disposal, and these regulations apply to any medical facility—from doctors' offices to surgery centers to hospitals. Noncompliance with these medical waste regulations can carry heavy penalties (financial and otherwise), so it's important you and everyone in the facility know these regulations, but it's even more important that everyone then follows them to the letter. To that end, the following is an overview of what your center needs to know about disposing of pharmaceutical waste.

Best Methods for Disposing of Pharmaceutical Waste

What Pharmaceuticals Are We Talking About?

This disposal process applies to any pharmaceutical that a medical center no longer needs. In the vast majority of cases, that means expired medications or expired samples.

What's the Wrong Thing to Do?

Sometimes the best way to know what to do is to realize what not to do. In terms of pharmaceuticals, that could mean the following:

  • Dumping expired medications down the drain.
  • Throwing any pharmaceuticals directly in the trash.
  • Putting pharmaceuticals in red bag waste. (Not only is this not how to dispose of expired medication properly, but it can also artificially inflate your regulated medical waste disposal costs.)

Why Is This Happening?

These improper disposal techniques do not stem from miseducation. Prior to the RCRA law, there was a larger lack of education as well as a proliferation of misinformation. Now, however, it's more about the difficulty of getting every staff member to comply with those laws.

Administration knows the legality of pharmaceutical disposal, but successful implementation continues to be the hurdle.

OK…It's Happening. Why Does It Matter?

Improper disposal can put hazardous pharmaceuticals directly into water sources or landfills (where they can leach into the soil). This obviously poses a large environmental risk.

Because of the noncompliance with federal laws, it also puts your medical clinic or facility at risk for fines or (in the cases of egregious misconduct) even harsher legal action.

How to Be in Compliance

  • Reach Out

The best approach is for medical facilities to work with qualified, experienced, and reputable medical waste management companies. How do you decide which companies possess those qualities? Look to permitting and insurance.

A hazardous waste permit is required to pick up any hazardous waste (which includes some pharmaceuticals), so any management company that agrees to pick up your medical waste must possess those permits as well as adequate insurance.

This also involves being knowledgeable and diligent about the process of how to dispose of pharmaceutical waste. Ensure the company knows legal shipping stipulations, including the necessity of a hazardous waste manifest.

Also consider working with a full-service medical waste management company. A turnkey operation such as that ensures you only have to work with one company that can process all paperwork, provide all containers, and complete every other step until your medical waste is properly treated and disposed of.

  • Identify What You Have

If you're a hospital, you can provide your formulary to that company, which will alert them to what kinds of pharmaceuticals you have that require disposal.

If you're a smaller medical facility, you can give that waste management company an inventory list, and from that, the company can create a waste profile to identify what you have and how to properly dispose of it.

  • Get (and Use) Pharmaceutical Waste Containers

Your waste management company can provide the necessary containers to store your pharmaceutical waste. These containers will already have the necessary placards and labels on them. They will also be UN-rated containers and DOT approved.

When that container is full, you can simply call your waste management company to come and take it away.

Non-hazardous versus Hazardous Pharmaceuticals

It's not uncommon for a medical waste management company to combine all pharmaceuticals (hazardous and non-hazardous) and process everything as hazardous. This means everything gets sent to the medical incinerator and ensures no hazardous medicines slip through the system.

For more information about proper expired medication disposal, please feel free to contact a representative of MCF Environmental Services, a medical waste management company in Atlanta, Georgia