PENCINTA ALAM JUNE 2010
GREEN LIVING COLUMN
DISPOSING OF EXPIRED AND UNUSED MEDICINES
Expired and unused medicines sitting in our cabinets may not seem like a major environmental concern compared to, say, cars and refrigerators, but trace levels of drug residues have been found in lakes, rivers and other water sources. Medicine that ends up in our waterways harms aquatic life and may find its way back into the human water supply chain. There is also a risk that medicine in rubbish bins and landfills may be accidentally ingested by stray animals, wildlife and birds.
What can we do about unused, expired and unwanted prescription medicine? The best policy is always to REDUCE:
1. It's best to have fewer leftover medicines in the first place. If you're trying a new over-the-counter medication such as a headache reliever, buy the smallest amount possible, even if a larger size is on sale.
2. For a prescription medicine, don't hesitate to ask your doctor or pharmacist whether different quantities and potencies are available — you can often save money and reduce waste if they can tailor the prescription to your needs.
3. Tell your doctor not to give you a particular medicine if you know you're not going to take it.
4. Take medicine as directed by your doctor or pharmacist. Don't stop taking a medicine part way through the course of treatment, unless you are having a serious adverse reaction, without first discussing it with your doctor. Even if you feel better, use up the entire prescription as directed to make sure that all the bacteria are destroyed.
5. Be aware of expiry dates and storage advice for medicines. Should it be refrigerated? Should it be kept in a cool, dark place? Failure to follow storage advice normally ends up in waste.
6. Use up your personal care products (shampoo, cleansers), vitamins and supplements rather than leave them to expire and then try to find ways to dispose of them.
Some pharmaceutical companies offer takeback programmes for their products. These programmes collect medicines in secure containers and send them to a high-temperature incinerator, which is a disposal method recommended by the World Health Organisation.
However, this programme is not widely available in Malaysia. While it would be good for us, as consumers and concerned eco-citizens, to lobby pharmaceutical companies to implement measures to take back unused and unwanted drugs, in the meantime, we still have to find ways to dispose of unwanted medicine that would cause the least harm to humans, animals and the environment:
1. Crush pills or capsules, or dissolve them in a small amount of water.
2. Mix liquid medications with an absorbent material such as kitty litter or sawdust.
3. Place the old drugs (crushed or diluted with water to prevent scavenging humans from consuming and misusing it) in a sealed plastic bag, and conceal that bag in a second plastic bag or other container, such as a plastic or glass jar. Label the container properly with the words "MEDICINE" so that the rubbish collectors can separate it for incineration.
4. For your own safety and privacy: Dispose of the prescription label separately from the drugs, and cross out personal information.
1. Do not conceal discarded medicine in food. This is to prevent consumption by scavenging humans, pets or wildlife.
2. Do not give your prescription medicines to someone else.
Humans take anticonvulsants, contraceptive pills, antibiotics, antidepressants and pain relievers. Birds, fishes and frogs don't. Let's try to keep it that way.