Medication disposal
Pharmacy insights

How to dispose medication safely

Drugs are not ordinary items and with this, medication disposal should be done appropriately. In this post, I will summarise how to dispose of your medication safely, regardless of whether medication is expired or just unwanted.

Remember: once medication left the pharmacy it cannot be reused as dispensing stock when brought back to the pharmacy, even if you never opened the box.

Medication disposal: where to take your drugs

Medication disposal of unwanted or expired medicines is one of the essential services that every pharmacy in the UK needs to provide. This means you can return your medication to any pharmacy close to your home. Find your nearest pharmacy here.

All medicines should be accepted including:

  • controlled drugs
  • diabetic pens (unused or used as long as no needles are attached)
  • cytotoxic medication
  • inhalers

Patients are usually asked if any ‘sharps’ are being returned or controlled drugs. Sharps / sharp bins are not accepted by all pharmacies. For some controlled drugs patients may be asked to provide their name (or patient name) and address. Patients may be asked to empty returned drugs into a tray to check the returned stock.

Medication disposal - pharmacy list

Source: PSNC, ND

Medication disposal: How to recycle used inhalers

Some pharmacies, for example, Tesco Pharmacy offer recycling service of used inhalers. Recycling of inhalers scheme called Complete the Cycle is run by GSK (producer of Ventolin inhaler) with the aim of waste and greenhouse gases reduction.

As part of the scheme, you can return any inhaler including commonly used Metered Dose Inhaler (MDI) or Dry Powder Inhaler (DPI). Inhalers produced by different manufacturers are accepted, not only GSK. GSK uses recycled aluminium canister to produce new inhalers (not all materials are used due to patient safety reasons).

How to find a pharmacy which participates in inhaler recycling scheme?

Visit Complete The Cycle website and enter your postcode to find the nearest pharmacy, dispensing GP or hospital that participates in the scheme.

How to dispose of sharps bin?

Sharps bin, containing for example diabetic needles are not accepted by all pharmacies. Only pharmacies / GP surgeries which have a contract in place accept sharps bin. Local councils are now responsible for this service. Some councils collect sharps bins from patient’s homes or through pharmacies which run this service on councils behalf.

To find out more, visit your local council’s website or ring your local pharmacy to check if this service is offered.

How to reduce waste?

Sadly, medication waste is a big problem. NHS estimates that £300 million of NHS prescribed medicines are wasted each year (NHS, 2015). This figure includes an estimated £90 million of unused medication being stock in patients’ homes.

Help to reduce medicine wastage:

  • check if you need medication before ordering more
  • inform your pharmacy if stopped taking medication if they order your medication on your behalf
  • think which medication is needed before ticking all boxes on the request form
  • don’t stockpile because of Brexit or any other reason
  • check your medicines before leaving a pharmacy and return unwanted medicines before leaving the pharmacy


NHS (2015). Pharmaceutical waste reduction in the NHS. Available at: Accessed on 27/07/2019



I am a community pharmacist working in UK. I blog about drugs, health and pharmacy.

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