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Guidance for Consumers on Proper Handling and Disposal of Household Pharmaceuticals

Where should I take my unwanted pharmaceuticals?

Since 2011, the State of Vermont has participated in Drug Take Back Days as part of a national initiative from the U.S. Department of Justice. In additional to these annual events (usually September each year), a variety of sheriff stations, police departments, and pharmacies act as permanent collection sites where you can dispose of your unwanted medications year round.

See the map below for the listing and locations of Vermont agencies that conveniently offer drug disposal throughout the year*. This map is maintained by the Department of Public Safety Drug Diversion Unit. You may also call your local pharmacy to check if they are currently accepting unused medications for collection and proper disposal.

*Anyone can drop off prescription medications at any site, no questions asked. This collection and disposal is free of charge. Please no sharps or liquids.


Why should I care about bringing my unused pharmaceuticals to a drop-off location?

There are two important reasons to avoid the trash or a flush down the toilet when it comes to pharmaceuticals:

  1. Unwanted medications pose a health and safety risk to adults, pets, and children by creating easy access to powerful substances. It doesn't matter if they're in a cupboard or a waste bin---they can be found.
  2. Pharmaceuticals can have a profound effect on the endocrine systems of aquatic species, and threaten drinking water supplies. Wastewater treatment plants are unable to process pharmaceuticals that arrive from household sewer systems, or in truckloads of leachate from landfills.

As a result, it is recommended that household consumers use collection locations and drop-off events for proper disposal of unwanted medications. These practices ensures that harmful chemicals are kept out of our waterways and our bodies, and ultimately collected and incinerated instead.

<< View FDA Guidelines for Prescription Medication Disposal HERE. >>

Want to explore more about the issues and effects of unwanted medications? Visit these reliable resources for up-to-date information and guidance.

Guidance for Entities Running a Collection Event for Unwanted Pharmaceuticals

Regulatory requirements

Due to the various regulatory structures of pharmaceuticals, initial collection efforts have confronted many barriers to proper management. Some of these barriers have included Controlled Substances and Solid and Hazardous Wastes management rules and regulations.

Controlled Substances

Some household pharmaceuticals are regulated by the US Drug enforcement Administration (DEA).  These pharmaceuticals, which include many of the narcotic prescription drugs, are strictly regulated as to their prescription, dispensing, use and ultimate disposal.  As a result, these pharmaceuticals may be collected by a solid waste entity but once collected these pharmaceuticals must be immediately surrendered to law enforcement.  The law enforcement officer must then inventory and manage these controlled substances according to applicable DEA guidelines.

Solid and Hazardous Wastes 

When collection entities begin to take waste pharmaceuticals from businesses (i.e., nursing homes, doctors’ offices, pharmacies, etc.), the household exemption from hazardous waste regulations does not apply.  What this means is that businesses must manage their waste pharmaceuticals according to all applicable laws and regulations.  These include the Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) for regulated narcotics, Solid Waste Management Rules for Regulated Medical Wastes (http://www.anr.state.vt.us/dec/wastediv/solid/pubs/MedWaste.pdf) and Hazardous Waste Management regulations for any listed or characteristic waste pharmaceuticals (http://www.anr.state.vt.us/dec/wastediv/rcra/hazregs/VHWMRFull_wCover.pdf), to name a few.

If Waste Household pharmaceuticals are collected only from households, they are exempt from Hazardous waste regulations.  It is important to note, that any waste pharmaceuticals collected from businesses are subject to all applicable VT Hazardous Waste Regulations, Drug Enforcement Agency (DEA) Laws and Solid Waste Rules for Regulated Medical Wastes.

For collection events accepting only unwanted household pharmaceuticals, the collecting entity must submit an Insignificant Waste Management Event Approval Application (IWMEA).  This application, which “may only be issued if the Secretary finds that the collection event will not result in a threat to the public health and safety or to the environment, and will not create a nuisance.”, is available at  http://www.anr.state.vt.us/dec/wastediv/solid/permit.htm.

Collection program requirements

Due to the increasing demand for collection programs for unwanted household pharmaceuticals, the Vermont Agency of Natural Resources (ANR) suggests that entities implementing collection programs include the following in developing their unwanted household pharmaceutical collection events:

  1. Complete and submit an IWMEA application including the date and length of the proposed collection program, the location, proposed site security, site map, site specific safety, accident and contingency plan and the ultimate disposal of any unwanted household pharmaceuticals collected.
  2. Obtain the services of a licensed pharmacist, to identify, count and segregate unwanted household pharmaceuticals.
  3. Obtain the services of certified law enforcement personnel for site security and management of DEA regulated substances.
  4. Obtain the services of a licensed Hazardous waste contractor for proper hazardous waste disposal (preferably hazardous waste incineration).
  5. Partner with a local solid waste planning entity and/or a local health care institution.
  6. Address the potential for any sharps and/or any other regulated medical waste being delivered to the collection event. 
  7. Submittal of a report on the amount and type of waste pharmaceuticals collected and the number of participants. 



Mia Roethlein

Environmental Analyst IV

Waste Management and Prevention Division

Solid Waste Program

1 National Life Drive - Davis 1

Montpelier, VT 05620-3704

Phone: 802-522-5926



Last updated:
VT DEC Waste Management & Prevention Division 1 National Life Drive - Davis 1  Montpelier, VT  05620-3704  Tele: 802-828-1138  Fax: 802-828-1011

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