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  • Paul Rivers

Pharmaceutical Waste Disposal and Best Management Practices (Part 2 of 2)

Updated: Aug 29, 2023

In Part 1 of our series on Pharmaceutical Waste, we discussed the EPA Draft Proposal to add hazardous pharmaceutical wastes to the Universal Waste Rule. In Part 2, we discuss methods for reducing the quantity of pharmaceutical wastes generated in your healthcare facility.


Before healthcare facilities implement management practices for waste reduction, they must understand exactly what their hospital is purchasing and discarding. Controlled substances, for example, have very specific and stringent regulatory requirements. We recommend conducting a thorough inventory of pharmaceuticals purchased and disposed of at the healthcare facility. This inventory becomes a good starting point for prioritizing efforts geared towards waste reduction.

Reduce / Avoid Unused Pharmaceuticals

Pharmacies that implement unit-dose dispensing reduce their potential for unused medical waste significantly. Patients typically use unit-dose drugs completely, leaving virtually no unused waste.

A very small percentage of drugs go unused even under best management practices since a patient may refuse a medication; the medicine may no longer be necessary; or the patient may be discharged before a dose is given. If these unused medicines are in smaller containers, the overall waste quantities will be reduced.

Facilities can reduce drug waste through unit dose packaging and smaller container sizes in the pharmacy and on the patient floors. Pharmacies may purchase drugs in unit doses such as blister packs. By limiting the quantity of medication dispensed, unopened drugs can readily be restocked, reused, and even prescribed to another patient.

Replace Pharmaceutical Samples with Vouchers

Pharmaceutical reps often give free samples to doctors’ offices and clinics. These drugs are often provided to patients at no cost as trial prescriptions. If the samples expire before use, the facility has to dispose of the medications. Many hospitals are now refusing these samples in favor of vouchers. Vouchers given to patients in lieu of samples reduces the potential for waste from expired samples.

Stock Rotation

Rotating stock is another prudent practice to reduce expired pharmaceuticals. During a periodic drug inventory, short-dated drugs are redistributed to other areas of the facility where needed and they are used immediately.

The Practice Greenhealth website provides additional suggestions for pharmaceutical waste minimization.

Contact us for further advice on pharmaceutical waste management. EES and our Associates have years of experience with managing pharmaceutical wastes and can develop a site-specific program for your facility.

Let us know what your experience is on this complex topic by commenting below…



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