By now, it’s no secret that the habit of just dumping your old medicines or even beauty products into the trash, down the drain or into your waste basket has a negative environmental impact. Some of this is myth and some of this is fact. Today, we’re going to debunk a common myth about flushing or rinsing and then go through the best ways to get rid of your leftover medicine and bathroom products with minimal risk and effort.

The Big Myth: Flushing or Rinsing is Necessarily Bad

One of the most common concerns that environmentalists raise is that when you flush old medications or beauty products down the toilet or down the sink, the harmful ingredients get into and contaminate the surface water supply. Not only is that thought to be bad for the water, but it also has an impact on fresh water wildlife and plants. All of this is true.

However, it’s also true that the most common way that those medication and beauty product chemicals and ingredients make it into the water supply is simply by people using them and then either rinsing them off or passing them naturally through their systems.

So, while it’s true that the chemicals in our medications and beauty products are certainly having an environmental impact, it’s unlikely that your method of disposal is going to make as big a difference as responsible choices about what you use on and in your body!

Disposing of Medications: There Are Better Ways To Do This

That doesn’t mean that we can’t make better choices about how we dispose of things from our medicine cabinet! Let’s talk about medications first! To begin with, make sure that you’re recycling the containers. We’ve got tips on where you can recycle caps, but also put the empty medication bottles in your recycling containers. Just be sure to remove any identifying labels before you do!

Now, what to do with your leftover or expired medications? The FDA has some great guidelines.

DO NOT FLUSH! Unless the disposal instructions specifically tell you to flush drugs down the toilet, be sure not to.

Follow Instructions. Most medications come with disposal instructions. Be sure to follow them!

Check Drug Take-Back Programs. Many communities have periodic drug take-back programs where you can turn in your old medications and a professional will see that they are properly disposed of. Take advantage of these programs if you have one nearby.

If none of the above are true (there are no instructions and you don’t have a drug take-back program), then you’ll want to put the drugs into your everyday trash but reduce the risk of environmental contamination or of an animal ingesting them. To do that:

–       Put the drugs in a sealable container such as a bag or can

–       Mix the drugs with an undesirable substance such as coffee grounds or kitty litter to discourage animals (or even scavenging children)

Following these guidelines should allow you to safely dispose of medications while mitigating the environmental risk.

Disposing of Health and Beauty Products

The rules for disposing of health and beauty products are pretty similar, and we’ve got an entire article that covers how to best recycle cosmetics containers. Here are some tips to keep in mind though.

Recycle Caps: As with everything else, it’s great to save up your caps and then send them to a place that recycles their harder plastics.

Recycle Containers: Many health and beauty product containers are harder plastics, so refer to our cosmetics recycling article for the best way to put them back into action.

Avoid Rinsing: Again, getting rid of any leftovers in a sealed container is better than adding them to the water supply. Rather than rinsing out containers, consider wiping them down and then throwing out the tissues.

Of course, in the case of health and beauty products, the more organic your products the less you’ll have to worry!

Medicine cabinets aren’t very big, but they contain many things that can have a negative environmental impact. If we’re all a little more conscious, we can negate a great deal of that!

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Related Info

FDA Guidelines for Disposing of Medications

Photo Credit: litlnemo via Flickr