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Pharmaceutical Waste Management & Disposal: Tips & Best Practices

Pharmaceutical waste management is complex. Here’s what you need to know.

Managing pharmaceutical waste is both an environmental and compliance issue.  Pharmaceutical manufacturers and retailers, as well as healthcare facilities, must adhere to laws and regulations to ensure safety and liability. Proper waste management is key to minimizing environmental impact and reducing risk associated with hazardous waste.

Here are some key tips and best practices to ensure compliance.

Understanding Pharmaceutical Waste

The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) provides guidance regarding medications that are known environmental hazards. These are called non-DEA, hazardous pharmaceutical wastes or RCRA drug wastes. The EPA rule, “Management Standards for Hazardous Waste Pharmaceuticals” applies to pharmaceutical wastes that meet the RCRA definitions. These include:

  • P-listed drugs, such as nicotine and warfarin
  • U-listed drugs, including lindane and melphalan
  • Pharmaceuticals with heavy metals, including the preservative thimerosal

Non-DEA, Non-hazardous Pharmaceutical Waste

The vast majority of the pharmaceuticals on the market make up this kind of pharmaceutical waste, including:

  • OTC medications, such as acetaminophen, ibuprofen, naproxen, and combination cold medications
  • Contraceptives
  • All classes of antibiotics
  • Hormones
  • Non-RCRA prescription medications

The Environmental Protection Agency’s (EPA) ruling “Management Standards for Hazardous Waste Pharmaceuticals” was designed to protect our water supply and offers a set of standards to streamline the management of hazardous waste pharmaceuticals, and to make sure the protocols are safe for the healthcare industry and the environment. This rule targets primarily businesses and healthcare facilities, which is why understanding proper disposal is imperative to community and environmental health.

Color Coding for Compliance

Just as you would put biohazard waste in red bags and sharps into puncture-resistant sharps containers, pharmaceutical waste must have its own container as well. Hazardous, non-DEA pharmaceutical waste should go in a black container, while non-hazardous, non-DEA pharmaceutical waste should go in a blue container. Shielded containers marked with radioactive symbols are for radioactive wastes. Trace chemo wastes go into yellow containers.

How to Maintain Compliance

Not all pharmaceuticals are created equally, and not all are considered hazardous, but all drugs must be disposed of properly. With so many pharmaceuticals, it can be difficult to know how to dispose of them while maintaining compliance. The EPA and DOT will levy fines to facilities that don’t properly dispose of pharmaceutical waste.

Red Bags can help your facility manage all hazardous and non-hazardous pharmaceutical waste for compliance, safety, and health.

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