Disposing of Medications & Home Generated Sharps / Needles

Medications can include:

  • Prescription drugs such as hormones (birth control pills, estrogen replacement drugs, etc.), antidepressants, and antibiotics
  • Over-the-counter medications such as pain relievers (aspirin, ibuprofen, etc.), cold/flu remedies, and antiseptics (germ killing liquids)
  • Veterinary medications.

Medications in the Environment

Medications can enter the sewer system if you dispose of unused or expired medications down the toilet or drain. Wastewater treatment plants are designed to remove conventional pollutants such as solids and biodegradable materials; they are not designed to remove man-made pollutants such as medications.

The major concerns to date regarding the presence of medications in surface water bodies have been increased bacterial resistance to antibiotics and interference with growth and reproduction in aquatic organisms such as fish and frogs. Aquatic organisms are sensitive to low levels of exposure and are particularly vulnerable when exposure occurs during developmentally sensitive times such as before birth and during juvenile stages of growth. Effects of exposure can include a generation imbalance (e.g. more females than males); poor egg hatching success; decreased fertility and growth; and altered behavior (e.g. lethargy and disorientation).

For more information, visit No Drugs Down the Drain.

Disposing of Medication

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San Juan Capistrano Household Hazardous Waste Collection Center, 32250 Avenida La Pata, 714-834-4000, Hours: Tuesday-Saturday, 9am-3pm.

Sharps must be in a heavy-duty, puncture-resistant container with a tight fitting lid. Examples of appropriate containers are empty plastic bottles such as detergent, liquid fabric softener or bleach bottle.

For more information please visit OCWR website Medication and Sharps Disposal | OC Waste & Recycling (oclandfills.com)

It is against the law in the state of California to dispose of sharps in the household trash.

Residents are asked not to flush medications down the toilet or drain. You can dispose of medications by following these steps:

  1. Take your medications out of their original containers.
  2. Mix medications with an undesirable substance, such as cat litter or used coffee grounds.
  3. Put the mixture into a disposable container with a lid, such as an empty margarine tub, or into a sealable bag.
  4. Conceal or remove any personal information, including Rx number, on the empty containers by covering it with a black permanent marker or by scratching it off.
  5. Place the sealed container with the mixture and the empty medication container in the trash.

Call 714-834-4000 for additional disposal options.

California Sharps Program

Did you know the California Sharps Program provides safe and convenient free disposal options for home-generated sharps? This includes hypodermic needles, pen needles, lancets, and other devices used for the delivery of medication which penetrate the skin. It is illegal to dispose of Sharps in your waste receptables. Proper disposal of Sharps saves lives, prevents needlestick injuries, spread of infectious diseases, and protects the environment. You can order a free Sharps container kit through the following two entities:

For more information and additional resources, please visit the CalRecycle website. Residents may also dispose of home-generated Sharps at the County’s Household Hazardous Waste Collection Center (32250 Avenida La Pata).