Pharmaceutical Waste Reduction

Reducing Pharmaceutical Waste at Home

How can you reduce drug waste created at home?

You can prevent drugs from becoming waste at home by maintaining personal health and by managing medications differently.  

Pharmaceutical waste is created when:

  • we have a bad reaction to a new medication 
  • our medication dose needs to be adjusted
  • we don't take medications as directed
  • we buy or accept more than is needed 
  • we think we need a pill for everything

Implementing even one of the following ideas can reduce the impact of drugs on our environment, and may both enhance benefits and reduce risks:

Take care of yourself

  • Stay healthy.  Basic self-care may help reduce your reliance on current medications or prevent the need to take medications in the future.  You know the drill: eat a balanced diet, exercise routinely, brush and floss your teeth and get enough sleep. It really does make a difference!
  • Lose excess weight. Reducing your weight may enable your doctor to reduce your dose for conditions relating to blood sugar, blood pressure and cholesterol and depression.
  • Schedule wellness visits and visit free health screenings to catch conditions early.  

Reduce stress

  • Spend quality time with friends and family to help reduce excessive stress which can lead to health issues such as high blood pressure, digestive issues and muscle pain.
  • Engage in relaxing activities such as walking, meditation, yoga, reading and hobbies. 
  • Let go of resentments, blame and other negative emotions. Negativity hurts you more than the other person. 
  • Laugh more.  Even laughing for no reason can help you feel better.

Be a good role model

Assume responsibility

  • Explore natural, health-enhancing alternatives to discuss with your doctor. 
  • Talk with healthcare providers about appropriate ways to reduce meds or dosages and to adopt non-drug alternatives, such as lifestyle changes.
  • When starting a new medication, talk to your doctor about possible side effects, drug interactions and alternative drugs or treatments that may result in less waste or fewer effects on the environment.
  • Also, when starting a new medication, ask your doctor to prescribe a limited quantity to see if the drug will work for you. Don't automatically purchase a 30, 60, or 90 day supply. You may be able to save money as well as reduce pharmaceutical waste. Medicare and Medicaid allow for trial prescriptions.
  • If your doctor offers medication samples, ask for only enough doses to try the medication.  Don't accept large amounts, because if the medication doesn't work, you will have to waste it.
  • Ask your doctor to check out GreenPharmEdu, an online continuing education program for health professionals to learn how to reduce pharmaceutical waste and the harm it may cause the environment.
  • Take your medications as directed by your physician.

Review your medications

  • Make a list of everything you take, including over-the-counter medications, vitamins and herbal supplements.  Bring the list with you when you visit a healthcare provider or pharmacy and when you travel.
  • Ask your doctor and pharmacist to review all your medications periodically, to optimize their use.  In Wisconsin, ask to see a doctor or pharmacist who has been trained as part of the Wisconsin Pharmacy Quality Collaborative, a program designed to bring healthcare providers and patients together to optimize the use of medications.
  • Consult the American Geriatric Society for a list of drugs that may pose a potential risk to seniors.  (For example, the American Board of Internal Medicine Foundation "Choosing Wisely" Campaign recommends against the use of benzodiazepine drugs for adults 65 years and older.)   If you are over 65 and taking a drug on the list, don't just stop taking it, do ask your doctor about it.

Purchase medications wisely

  • Keep track of the prescription and over-the-counter medications you have in your home so you don't purchase products you already have.
  • Purchase smaller amounts of common over-the-counter medications, such as pain relievers, to ensure the medication is used before its expiration date.
  • If your pharmacy automatically mails you refills, inform the pharmacy immediately when you stop taking that medication.
  • Fill all your prescriptions at one pharmacy.  Pharmacists will check for drug interactions that can harm you or keep other medications from working properly.  These problems may be missed if you fill prescriptions from multiple pharmacies or obtain prescriptions through the mail.  If you must obtain some by mail, be sure your pharmacist is aware of them.
  • Before accepting a new medication from the pharmacist, share your list of medications and ask questions about when the new medication will start working, what possible side effects may be and how and when you should take it. 
  • In Wisconsin, encourage your pharmacist to join the Wisconsin Pharmacy Quality Collaborative.
  • For more tips on buying medications wisely, see the US Food and Drug Administrations Educational Resources

Store medications properly

  • Store medications at the proper temperature and humidity level as recommended on the label. Due to high humidity, bathrooms are not always the best place to store medicine.
  • Keep all your medications in one place so you don't buy more than you can use before they expire.
  • Lock up any medications that could be cause for poisoning or misuse, especially pain medication.

Everyone involved in the life cycle of pharmaceuticals can reduce waste. To learn more, visit:

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