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Safe Disposal of Unwanted Pharmaceuticals - A Complete Guide to Best Practices

Safe Disposal of Unwanted Pharmaceuticals


When it comes to pharmaceuticals disposal, finding yourself on the wrong side of the law could mean some pretty hefty fines.

That’s without even mentioning the consequences that can arise even if you don’t get caught - staff sickness, injuries, infections, and even negative first impressions for customers.

It should go without saying that any company or organisation that makes use of pharmaceuticals need to prioritise their safe disposal.

But what constitutes pharmaceutical waste, and how should you go about doing this?

Let’s take a look:

What is Pharmaceutical Waste?

pharmaceutical waste

Pharmaceutical waste most commonly refers to medications and drugs, for example:

  • Expired over-the-counter or prescription medications
  • Research and development drugs not currently available to the public

However, the term can also be used to refer to:

  • Used glass vials or syringes that may be contaminated with the above
  • Cytostatic drugs
  • Infectious samples or body fluids
  • Intravenous fluids
  • Dietary supplements (if over 1 litre)
  • Alcohol hand gels that contain siloxanes

The safe disposal of unwanted pharmaceuticals in and after emergencies is crucial for the safety of other staff and patients in healthcare environments, and even day to day waste such as in doctor’s surgeries needs to be disposed of correctly.

So how is this achieved?

Safe Disposal of Unwanted Pharmaceuticals


As mentioned above, companies have a legal obligation to ensure the safe disposal of pharmaceuticals.

This includes using the correctly coloured pharmaceutical waste bins in order to make it immediately clear what each bin contains. The most common relevant ones are purple lidded containers for pharmaceutical hazardous waste for incineration and blue-lidded containers for pharmaceutical non-hazardous waste for incineration, but other bins such as those for sharps disposal are just as important.

It’s also crucial to use waste bins that are able to lock, as this prevents both theft of needles, and accidental contact with sharps, infectious materials or potentially dangerous medications.

For clinics, doctor’s surgeries, hospitals, and other medical environments, even more of these specialised containers may be required, for example for the safe disposal of wound dressings or swabs.

Outside of the legal and safety based reasons for ensuring proper disposal of pharmaceuticals, it’s also important to avoid any potential environmental impact. Incorrect or inadequate disposal of chemicals, medications or infectious materials can be devastating to local plant life, wildlife and water supplies.

It’s also legally required that all controlled drugs should be denatured before being disposed of, even if they are out of date or otherwise unusable. This is necessary to avoid the theft and abuse or sale of such drugs before they are safely incinerated or destroyed.

UK regulations on pharmaceutical waste disposal are very clear and readily available, but remaining compliant isn’t always so easy. Many companies and healthcare organisations prefer to work with a specialised pharmaceutical waste disposal service in order to minimise the risk, maximise compliance and maintain the safest, cleanest environment possible while allowing their own employees to focus on what matters - the patients.

Even for private organisations such as medical researchers, this is often both cheaper and more reliable than setting up an internal waste disposal team.

phs Pharmaceutical Waste Disposal Services

As the UK’s leading supplier of pharmaceutical waste disposal, phs are ready and waiting to help you remain compliant and keep your working environment cleaner, safe and welcoming than ever before.

We have operations centres in every city and town across the UK, meaning we’re your local providers, no matter where you are.

Our staff are also friendly, dedicated, and experienced in entering your building, carrying out the required tasks and leaving with zero interruption.

We also use an easily auditable process that allows us to prove to you that everything has been done correctly, essentially taking the issue of pharmaceutical waste disposal compliance off your hands for good!If this sounds like something that would benefit your organisation, get in touch now, or read up on our pharmaceutical waste disposal services page.

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