Sometimes going through the medicine cabinet or cupboards in your bathroom is like visiting museum of ailments past – you wonder how on Earth you accumulated so many pills, capsules and tablets. Antibiotics you never finished because you started feeling better, the truckload of supplies you bought to go on a trip (but never used), or the back up supply incase one of your kids comes down with something icky. What’s the best way to dispose of these meds? You wouldn’t want them to come into the wrong hands, and likely many of them are expired. A lot of times, people end up flushing them down the toilet, thinking that this is the safest option – but it’s not.
Anything that’s flushed down the toilet travels through the sewer to a treatment plant, however when you flush medications, most will disintegrate into the water along the way. This water ends up back in the environment into streams and lakes, and so contamination affects the wildlife that calls these areas home. This water circles back to us, too, as the water seeps into the water table and into our drinking water supply. Just as you wouldn’t dump a bucket of paint into the stream, you shouldn’t be flushing any hazardous materials down the drain either, since they’ll wind up in the same place.
Not all medications are created equal, and some may not be as harmful as others – but better safe than sorry when it comes to contamination. Many pharmacies and medical centers will accept old medication and prescriptions for safe disposal free of charge. Some packaging may indicate that it’s safe to flush the product down the drain – but if you’re still unsure, it’s best to take it to the professionals. As we are learning more about the effects of toxins in our water supply, and becoming more aware of the problems of contaminated water in the United States, it’s becoming increasingly important to understand how our actions are affecting the environment.
It can be a little scary to think about all of the different household products that get flushed down the drain, from old medications to cleaning products, when the full life cycle returns that water right back to us. Furthermore, what has to happen to the water for it to be deemed “safe” if it’s been exposed to contaminants? We recommend getting your tap water tested, and that way you’ll know exactly what’s coming into your home. Besides contamination from discarded materials into our water supply, there are many other ways your drinking water can be exposed to toxins, including through the metal pipes by which it travels and the harmful chemicals added to “clean” it. Safely discarding old medication is one small step you can take towards creating a healthier environment and stopping unnecessary contamination.