How to dispose of old medicines in the UK | Commercial Recycling News

How to dispose of old medicines in the UK

It seems to be an unwritten rule in the UK that a family home will have a medicine cupboard or drawer.

We seem to collect boxes of medication for years, building up our stock and forgetting that all this medicine has expiration dates. It is only when we come to clear out the cupboard that you question how old some of these boxes are and go to dispose of them. But how do you safely dispose of out-of-date medicine?

In this article, we will share when you should get rid of your medicine, and the options you have when disposing of it.

When to dispose of medicine

There are several situations in which you might find the need to dispose of old medicines.

While it is recommended that you keep a basic first aid kit at home which should include paracetamol and other over-the-counter painkillers, you shouldn’t be keeping an excessive amount of medication as this can be dangerous. Therefore, to avoid this you should keep an eye on expiration dates and use-by dates on each of the packets. Once the medicine has gone past these dates, you should throw it away. It is recommended that you go through any medicine cabinets every 6 months to check everything is still in date.

You should also think about disposing of medicine if the packaging is damaged, for example, if a blister packet of tablets is damaged, the medicine should be disposed of.

Of course, an obvious time when you will need to dispose of medicine is if you were prescribed medicine for an illness or condition but no longer need it. Or you might find yourself in a sad position where a loved one has passed away and you are clearing their medicine cupboard.

Disposing of medicines

Once any medication, open or otherwise leaves the pharmacy, it cannot be recycled or used by another patient, and you should never throw unused medicine down the sink or toilet, or in the bin. Flushing medication into our drainage system poses significant risks to the wider environment and can also lead them to being found by children and vulnerable adults that they are not intended for.

Disposing of medicine at a pharmacy

It is recommended that you take any out-of-date or unused medication back to your local pharmacy where they will be able to dispose of them properly following UK legislation.

Collection by a clinical waste provider

There are clinical waste services around Dorset that will be able to come and collect your unused or out-of-date medicine. You will need to do is give the company a call to learn more about their services and arrange a collection.

Disposing of medicine at home

If you are not able to take your unused medicine to a pharmacy, then you should follow these steps:

  1. Remove the label from any packaging, or make it illegible.
  2. Recycle cardboard boxes.
  3. Empty any blister packets out and throw the packaging in the bin.
  4. Don’t crush the medication
  5. Mix the tablets/capsules with dirt or other inedible substances and place them in sealable packaging.
  6. Follow any instructions on the leaflet or packaging that comes with the medicine.

Please note that this should be a last resort, and should only be done if you can’t get your medicine to your pharmacy.

What to do with old inhalers?

Inhalers can be recycled. Simply return any inhalers to a pharmacy.

It is said that as many as 73 million inhalers are used throughout the UK each year.

Asthma sufferers that dispose of unused inhalers via landfill pose a significant risk to the wider environment, both in material waste and greenhouse gas emissions (via the inhaler’s gas canister).

If each inhaler-user across Britain returned their unused or unfinished inhalers throughout the year, it would save more than half a million tonnes of CO2eq – equivalent to the emissions created by a Volkswagen Golf vehicle being driven around the world 88,606 times!*

Like other medicines, you should never put inhalers in your waste bins at home as sending them to landfill can be harmful to the environment as residual gases from the canisters can be released into the atmosphere.

How to reduce medicine waste

An astonishing £300 million worth of medicine prescribed by the NHS is wasted each year in the UK*, and around 40% of Brits throw away medications from their homes annually. All this medicine waste uses up energy and resources to dispose of it all properly, impacting the environment.

Cutting down on the disposal of old medicines will help protect the planet and can save us all money.

One of the easiest ways to reduce the amount of medicine we are disposing of is to simply use what we have got. If you are ill, take a look in the cupboard to see what you have got before going out and buying more.

If you are on prescribed medication, such as antibiotics, then it is recommended that you finish the course of medicine even if you start to feel better.

Dispose of your waste with us

While it is recommended that you dispose of old or unused medicines by returning them to your local pharmacy, if you have used your medication and are throwing any packaging away, you are able to include it with your general waste or recycling.

Commercial Recycling offer competitive tipping rates at our sites in Somerset and Dorset for disposing of a mixture of recyclable waste streams and general waste. Our sites have several separate waste bays for you to easily and quickly tip your different waste streams at. We ask that you separate your waste into different piles prior to arriving at our site, to help make your visit to us smooth and time-effective.

It is easy to tip several waste streams in one trip, as you can return to the weighbridge after emptying each waste type into its allocated bay.

Before arriving at our site, we recommend you check our opening hours and download our tipping price list.

If you have any questions about how to dispose of old medicine or its packaging, give us a call on 01202 579579, or email us at



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