non-hazardous pharmaceutical waste disposal

Non-hazardous Pharmaceutical Waste Disposal

Almost every medical office has some type of pharmaceutical waste. From pills, injectables and antibiotics to creams/lotions, eye drops and expired medicines – there are a lot of pharmaceuticals on the market. This category of waste is one of the more complex in terms of the regulations and procedures that govern its proper segregation and disposal. However, not all pharmaceutical waste can be handled the same way. Proper pharmaceutical waste management requires a thorough understanding of the difference between hazardous and non-hazardous pharma waste. 

What is Non-hazardous Pharmaceutical Waste?

The main point to remember is that, just because it’s termed “non-hazardous,” doesn’t mean that this type of waste is completely harmless. Non-hazardous pharmaceutical waste can still have negative impacts on both human health and the environment if it is not disposed of correctly.

The term “non-hazardous” simply means that the waste is “non-RCRA” hazardous waste, or not regulated by the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) which is the law that creates the framework for proper management of hazardous and non-hazardous solid waste. So, non-hazardous pharmaceutical waste doesn’t fall into that category, but must still abide by EPA regulations. This type of waste cannot organically decompose in the environment without negative impact.

Non-hazardous pharmaceutical waste examples:

  • OTC pills
  • Antibiotics
  • Vials
  • Creams
  • Injectables
  • Syringes without sharps

Basically, all categories of pharmaceuticals that are not D, U, or P listed are included. (Pharmaceutical listed waste is RCRA hazardous waste.) 

It is important to properly segregate and dispose of non-hazardous pharmaceutical waste to prevent negative consequences from occurring. Improper disposal can result in legal and financial penalties for healthcare facilities and pharmacies. Fines can be imposed for violating environmental regulations or for not following proper disposal procedures. For example, Walgreens was hit with a $3.5 million fine that included, among other violations, improperly dumping over-the-counter and prescription medications

How to Properly Segregate and Dispose of Non-hazardous Pharmaceutical Waste 

Non-hazardous pharmaceutical waste should be segregated from other types of waste to prevent contamination and ensure proper disposal. For example, it should not be mixed or co-mingled with hazardous waste, sharps waste, or regular trash.

Color-coded bins or clearly labeled containers should be used to differentiate between different types of waste.

Segregation and Disposal Process:

  • Identify non-hazardous pharmaceutical waste: may include items such as expired or unused medications and packaging materials, empty drug containers, etc.
  • Separate non-pharmaceutical waste from pharma waste: may include items such as food wrappers, drink containers, and other general waste.
  • Sort the pharmaceutical waste by type: such as tablets, capsules, liquids, or creams.
  • Package the waste: package the sorted waste appropriately, i.e. tablets and capsules in a sealed container and liquids/creams in a sturdy, leak-proof container.
  • Segregate non-hazardous waste into appropriate, approved containers that are clearly marked as non-hazardous pharmaceutical waste (blue bins or marked boxes)
  • Clearly label the container with the contents and the date of disposal.
  • If necessary, store the waste in a secure area such as a locked room or cabinet, that is inaccessible to unauthorized individuals.
  • Do not place non-hazardous pharmaceutical waste in sharps containers.
  • Do not place loose pills in hazardous waste containers.
  • Do not mix non-hazardous waste with hazardous waste.
  • Send to an approved waste facility for incineration using the correct method.
  • Make sure you have a paper trail for your non-hazardous pharmaceutical waste, including manifests and a certificate of destruction. 

It is important to receive proper training to manage and handle non-hazardous pharmaceutical waste. Your medical waste management services partner should be able to provide compliance training resources. For example, TriHaz Solutions has convenient, online training that covers topics such as waste identification, handling procedures, and regulatory requirements. In addition to formal training, it’s important to stay up to date on relevant regulations and guidelines. Of note, the Alabama Department of Environmental Management (ADEM) has published proposed changes to its rules for managing medical waste.

Managing Non-hazardous Pharmaceutical Waste

Overall, the management of non-hazardous pharmaceutical waste in healthcare facilities requires careful attention to detail and compliance with regulations and guidelines. Proper training and education are critical to ensure that this type of waste is managed and disposed of in a safe and effective manner.

The best way to make sure your pharmaceutical waste management plan is compliant is to work with a qualified waste services partner. If you’d like to learn more about staying ahead of the curve and controlling your facility’s risk exposure regarding non-hazardous pharmaceutical waste, contact us today. TriHaz offers regulated medical waste management services trusted by medical practices, hospitals, and other facilities throughout the Southeast.

We can help you create a pharmaceutical waste management program tailored to your facility’s unique needs, ensuring you stay compliant with all regulatory standards.


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