Drugs are not ordinary items and with this, medication disposal should be done appropriately. In this post, I will summarise answer the following question: How do I dispose of old medication in the UK?
How do I dispose of old medication in the UK?
Remember: once medication left the pharmacy it cannot be reused as dispensing stock when brought back to the pharmacy, even if you never opened the box.
Disposal of old medicines: where to take your drugs
Medication disposal of unwanted or expired medicines is one of the essential services that every pharmacy in the UK needs to provide. This means you can return your medication to any pharmacy close to your home.
What medication/items can be disposed of?
All medicines should be accepted including:
- any tablets or capsules
- controlled drugs
- diabetic pens (unused or used as long as no needles are attached)
- cytotoxic medication
- creams and ointments
- liquid medicines
Items which cannot be returned in the pharmacy
Patients are usually asked if any ‘sharps’ are being returned or controlled drugs. Sharps / sharp bins are not accepted by all pharmacies. For some controlled drugs patients may be asked to provide their name (or patient name) and address. Patients may be asked to empty returned drugs into a tray to check the returned stock.
The following items will not be accepted for disposal:
- veterinary medicines
- any other items which are not a medicine
How to dispose old medication – inhaler recycling scheme
Update: As of September 2020 GSK stopped the Complete The Cycle scheme. Patients should still bring used inhalers to the pharmacy for safe disposal.
Some pharmacies, for example, Boots pharmacy and Tesco Pharmacy offer inhailer recycling scheme. Recycling of used inhalers scheme runs under the name of Complete the Cycle. This scheme is managed by GSK (producer of Ventolin inhaler) with the aim to reduce waste and greenhouse gases.
As part of the scheme, you can return any inhaler including commonly used Metered Dose Inhaler (MDI) such as Ventolin (salbutamol) or Dry Powder Inhaler (DPI). Inhalers produced by different manufacturers are accepted, not only GSK. GSK uses recycled aluminium canister to produce new inhalers (not all materials are used due to patient safety reasons).
Inhaler recycling scheme – where to recycle inhalers?
Visit Complete The Cycle website and enter your postcode to find the nearest pharmacy, dispensing GP or hospital that participates in the scheme.
Note: service is no longer active.
How to dispose of sharps bin?
Sharps bin, containing for example diabetic needles are not accepted by all pharmacies. Only pharmacies / GP surgeries which have a contract in place accept sharps bin. Local councils are now responsible for this service. Some councils collect sharps bins from patient’s homes or through pharmacies which run this service on councils behalf.
To find out more, visit your local council’s website or ring your local pharmacy to check if this service is offered.
How to reduce waste?
Sadly, medication waste is a big problem. NHS estimates that £300 million of NHS prescribed medicines are wasted each year (NHS, 2015). This figure includes an estimated £90 million of unused medication being stock in patients’ homes.
Help to reduce medicine wastage:
- check if you need medication before ordering more
- inform your pharmacy if stopped taking medication if they order your medication on your behalf
- think which medication is needed before ticking all boxes on the request form
- don’t stockpile because of Brexit or any other reason
- check your medicines before leaving a pharmacy and return unwanted medicines before leaving the pharmacy
NHS (2015). Pharmaceutical waste reduction in the NHS. Available at: https://www.england.nhs.uk/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/pharmaceutical-waste-reduction.pdf Accessed on 27/07/2019