Proper Disposal of Medical Sharps & Prescription Medication

What are sharps?

Sharps include hypodermic needles, pen needles, intravenous needles, lancets and other devices used to penetrate the skin to deliver medications or to obtain a blood specimen.

The dangers of needles in the trash

According to the US Environmental Protection Agency, an estimated 8 million people use more than 3 billion needles, syringes and lancets at home every year.  Some sharps users throw their used needles in the trash or flush them down the toilet. Used sharps left loose among other waste can hurt sanitation workers during collection rounds, at sorting and recycling facilities and at landfills. They can also become lodged in equipment, forcing workers to remove them by hand. Children, adults and even pets are also at risk for needle-stick injuries when sharps are disposed of improperly at home or in public settings. You can help prevent injury, infection and pollution by following these simple steps:


  • DO put sharps in an approved sharps container. Containers can be obtained through select pharmacies, trash collection providers and online companies. Fees vary, depending on the size of the container.  Check with your pharmacist, garbage service or local municipality to see if they offer a mail-back program or other disposal service. As an alternative, place sharps in an empty coffee can or laundry detergent bottle. When the container is ¾ full, tape the lid down securely with duct or packing tape. Label the container with “MEDICAL WASTE –SHARPS” and place in trash receptacle.


  • DON’T put sharps containers in your recycling, garbage (unless packaged as described above) or green waste cans.
  • DON’T flush sharps down the toilet. They may end up in our beaches and riverbanks.
  • DON’T put sharps in bleach bottles, soda cans or bottles, juice bottles, glass containers or milk cartons.
  • DON’T bring sharps to medical facilities, laboratories, pharmacies, or to your doctor’s office.

Proper Drug Disposal

Improper disposal of medications is a safety and environmental concern.  Antibiotics and other medications in a septic system can destroy beneficial bacteria necessary for the system to operate. Wastewater treatment plants are not designed to remove or process many compounds found in medications that end up being discharged into our surface and ground water. This includes prescription drugs, over-the-counter medications, veterinary drugs, cosmetics and vitamins. Proper disposal of medications also helps to protect our community against prescription abuse, addiction, and accidental or intentional overdose.


  • DO call your city or county government’s household trash and recycling service and ask if a drug take-back program is available in your community. Kalamazoo County’s “RED MED BOX” program provides multiple locations where you can easily and properly dispose of unused medications including chemotherapy medications and controlled substances. Visit for more information and locations. The Great Lakes Clean Water Organization’s “Yellow Jug” program also provides free disposal of certain medications at participating pharmacies. Visit for more information.

If a drug take-back or collection program is not available:

  • Take your medications out of their original containers. For solid medications such as pills or capsules, add a small amount of water to dissolve them first.
  • Mix drugs with an undesirable substance such as cat litter or used coffee grounds. Put the mixture into a disposable container with a lid, such as an empty margarine tub or into a sealable bag.
  • Conceal or remove any personal information, including RX number, on the empty containers by covering it with black permanent marker or duct tape, or by scratching it off.
  • Place the sealed container with the mixture, and the empty drug containers, in the trash.


  • DON’T flush medications down the toilet or drain unless the label or accompanying patient information specifically instructs you to do so.
  • DON’T give unused medications to another person.
  • DON’T place in trash (unless processed as described above)
  • DON’T bring unwanted or expired medications to medical facilities, pharmacies or to your doctor’s office.