Why you shouldn't flush your meds down the toilet – and what to do instead

  • Expired medicines can experience a change in their chemical composition and may breed bacterial growth.
  • For this reason, they should never be used beyond their expiry date.
  • When getting rid of unused or expired meds, it's best to avoid flushing them down the toilet or tossing them as they are in the trash. 

Almost all of us have a medicine cabinet that is jumbled with drugs past their expiration date. As News24 previously explained, the little date stamped on drugs is a guarantee from the manufacturer that it will work as advertised as long as it's used before this date. After this date, they may not be safe or as effective.

READ MORE | Here's why you have to clear out your medicine cabinet every year

The US Food and Drug Administration (FDA) notes that risk factors of expired drugs include a change in chemical composition due to exposure, a decrease in strength and the opportunity for bacterial growth on certain types of medication. So when it's reached the expiry date, don't think twice about getting rid of it.

But what's the right and the wrong way to do this? Read on below.

Avoid flushing pills down the toilet

Flushing pills down the toilet causes them to go into our waterways and pollute our environment, so this discard method is a big no-no.

While there isn't evidence of pharmaceutical products in the water harming people, studies show adverse effects on aquatic life, Harvard Health previously noted

READ MORE | What you should know about expiry dates for medication

Experts at Mount Sinai Hospital (MSH) explain that medicines contain chemicals that may not break down in the environment. "When flushed down the toilet or sink, these residues can pollute our water resources. This may affect fish and other marine life. These residues can also end up in our drinking water," they say.

Toss in the trash?

While this may not be the best way to discard your meds, there is a safe way to do it to avoid it being a danger to kids and animals.

"Take the medicine out of its container and mix it with other unpleasant garbage such as kitty litter or used coffee grounds. Do not crush pills or capsules," advises the experts at MSH.

Alternatively, you can place liquid meds into sealed containers that won't leak and dispose of them in the trash.

READ MORE | How to store your allergy meds

Heidi Sanborn, founder of the National Stewardship Action Council in the US, told Huffington Post: "There are horrible stories of children getting into the trash, seeing colourful pills that look like candy and then having horrible reactions." 

Seek out a drop-off point

The safest  and most responsible  way to dispose of medications is to use a dropbox and find your nearest drop-off point, such as a health clinic. According to the Washington Post, the dropbox method is pretty straightforward: "You open the bin, drop the medication in, and you are done." A pharmacy manager who routinely checks the bin will securely ship the contents in the filled box to a disposal site, where they will be incinerated.

Clicks also provides a medicine disposal service  all you need to do is fill out a form and they will dispose of your medication in a safe, environmentally-friendly manner.

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