doeHealth Care Waste & Toxics Reduction Tips

for small and medium size health care facilities


Health care facilities that use, dispense or store pharmaceuticals on-site can benefit from waste reduction and resource efficiency efforts.  


knifeReasons for Change

By assessing and implementing one or more of the practices described here and on the accompanying downloadable table, health care facilities can enjoy:

            • Reduced regulatory obligations and oversight.

            • Using less toxic medicines and dispensing pharmaceuticals prior to expiration and only in the amount needed, may reduce the amount and burden of dangerous waste managed at your health care facility.

            • Increased safety and reduced risks for patients, staff, visitors and the community. Mismanaged waste pharmaceuticals may cause or contribute to increased illness or death. Properly manage waste pharmaceuticals in the organization.

            • Preventing pollution and improving cost savings by:

              - Reducing medicine container size, quantity ordered, and spills

              - Improving waste management for pharmacy medications and chemicals



Opportunities for Action

Specific tips on ways Pharmacy Services providers can reduce and prevent toxic wastes and resource inefficiencies are listed in this fact sheet’s downloadable/printable table. A sampling of these tips is listed below. 

Basic Best Management Practices

  • Request less packaging ; use reusable totes/shipping containers.

  • Recycle prescription bottles, paper and cardboard packing materials.

  • Establish a "no sample" policy position.

  • Prescribe/dispense no more than is needed. 

  • Don’t purchase and prepare drugs in excess when pre-formulated, pre-mixed preparations and single-dose vials are available.

  • Use mercury-free medications.

  • Use medicines, pharmaceuticals, bandages, and medical devices that are silver-free whenever possible.

  • Dispose of silver concentrations of 5 parts per million (ppm) or more as dangerous waste.



Next Steps to Improve Pharmacy Service Practices

  • Develop a pharmaceutical waste prevention plan; educate staff during new employee orientation classes and at outreach events.

  • Provide information to patients on how and where to dispose of their residential medications.

  • Inventory pharmaceutical and chemical stores; use oldest supplies first; properly dispose of unused, outdated, or spoiled chemicals or medications.

  • Return unused and unopened pharmaceuticals only when reverse distributors offer a credit. 

  • Properly identify, manage and dispose of dangerous waste pharmaceuticals.  Do not dispose to sharps bins, red bag, garbage, sewer or septic system.




Additional Resources

This resource guide’s home page has links to additional fact sheets in this series, plus other useful tools and information from the Washington Department of Ecology and other experts.

The Washington Department of Ecology has a pharmaceutical waste management resource page and training slide show.    

For information on proper handling and disposal of chemotherapy waste, including expired drugs, aborted dosages, IV bags, sharps, contaminated personal protective equipment (PPE) and other materials, see the Washington Department of Ecology’s chemotherapy waste management fact sheet and chemotherapy waste management flow chart.

Information from the Minnesota Technical Assistance Program (MNTAP) on reducing and managing pharmaceutical waste from health care facilities and households can be found here.

An older article (2002) from PharmEcology on managing pharmaceutical waste.

For information on issues involving pharmaceuticals and ways to reduce their environmental impact, see Health Care Without Harm resources on pharmaceutical issues worldwide and in the U.S. and Canada.



This information is brought to you by the Washington Department of Ecology/Toxics Reduction Unit with assistance from the Pacific Northwest Pollution Prevention Resource Center (PPRC) . June 2010