Pharmaceutical Waste FAQ

Principal Hygiene - Your Local Clinical Waste Service Company 

What is the Best way to Dispose of Pharmaceutical Packaging & Medicine Bottles?

Very few medicines and drugs are classified as hazardous waste. The Hazardous Waste Regulations (England and Wales) 2005 only apply to cytotoxic and cytostatic drugs, i.e. those that are used in chemotherapy. These wastes may only be disposed of by incineration and should be segregated from other healthcare wastes.

The official Department of Health (DH) guidance document Safe Management of Healthcare Wastes specifies that “cyto” waste should be stored in purple containers prior to incineration.

Can unwanted medicince be flushed into the sewer if they are not hazardous?

Although other waste medicinal products are not classified as hazardous, this does not mean they can be flushed into the sewer system. Conventional wastewater treatment processes are not designed to remove these drug residues and pharmaceutical products are now seen as contaminants of concern in the environment.

Many common pharmaceuticals have been detected in rivers that are used as sources of drinking water. If the drugs are removed from the wastewater by the sewage treatment process, they can still accumulate in sewage sludge which is often spread on agricultural land, allowing the pharmaceuticals to leach into groundwater. Members of the public and healthcare workers may view commonplace drugs like Ibuprofen as harmless, so there is a need to raise awareness of the environmental consequences of inappropriate disposal.

Which unwanted medicines can be flushed into the sewer?

The only medicinal products that can be legally flushed to sewer are pharmaceutically inactive liquids such as saline and glucose. Water UK, the body that represents the water industry, has issued National Guidance for Healthcare Waste Water Discharges.  This prohibits the rinsing out of medication bottles and the disposal of unwanted medicines to sewer. The DH guidance also states that contaminated bottles, vials and ampoules should not be rinsed out but should instead be disposed of as waste medicines.

What are my Duty of Care Responsibilities?

As a waste producer you have a duty of care to identify any hazardous properties of waste medicines and assign the appropriate European Waste Catalogue (EWC) code, pharmaceutical from healthcare premises) or 20 01 32 (medicines in separately collected municipal waste).

Pharmaceutical Medicinal wastes should be stored in a blue lidded container and collected by a specialised licenced waste carrier for disposal. According to the DH guidance, “All pharmaceutically active substances, both hazardous and non-hazardous, present in the medicinally-contaminated waste and any waste chemicals should be destroyed during disposal at a suitably authorised facility.” This would be a waste treatment facility with an appropriate environmental permit.

For more information on Pharmaceutical Waste please call Principal Hygiene Ltd on 0843 390 2180

What are the Risks and Responsibilities for Hazardous Waste?

Waste is considered “hazardous” under environmental legislation when it contains substances, or has properties, that might make it harmful to human health or the environment. Such waste can be introduced to the environment through release into the air, water or land. As well as having direct and long-term impacts on wildlife and fauna, hazardous waste can affect humans, for example by contaminating groundwater supplies or by entering the food chain.

With an estimated 4.3 million tonnes of hazardous waste being produced annually in the UK, the producers of such waste have a “duty of care” to:

• prevent the illegal deposit, disposal or treatment of any waste produced
• prevent waste from escaping (e.g. leaking, blowing away, being stolen)
• ensure that waste is only transferred to authorised persons
• ensure that any waste transferred is accompanied by a written consignment note.

More specifically for hazardous waste, unless an organisation produces or holds less than 500 kilograms of such waste in any 12-month period, it is required to register the premises with the appropriate agency, since April 2016 this only applies to Scotland, Wales & N Ireland, as premises codes are no longer required for England. Organisations are also required to classify the waste appropriately and then separate and store the hazardous waste away from non-hazardous waste.
As well as being harmful to humans through environmental routes, hazardous waste can be harmful to employees directly handling and transporting it.

Under the Control of Substances Hazardous to Health Regulations (COSHH), an employer is required to make a suitable and sufficient assessment of the risk created by work activities which should “take into account those substances which are…. produced at the end of any process, e.g. wastes, residues, scrap etc.” In addition, COSHH requires:

• measures to be taken in respect of the safe handling and transport of waste substances
• means for instituting the safe collection, storage and disposal of contaminated waste
• the use of secure and identifiable containers.

Call the experts

As a waste producer do you know if you are compliant? Do you know how effective or if your waste disposal service represents value for money? Not sure? then talk to Principal Hygiene we can help you with advice and support ensuring you have the right services in place that delivers value for money, is compliant and meets your waste disposal needs.

Get a Clinical quote today or call us to discuss further, If you are unsure about the type of container you should be using or you have a mixed waste stream call us, we are on hand to provide advice and support. 



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