How to Dispose of Hazardous Pharmaceutical Waste

Medication is a critical component of healthcare. Whether administering or filling medications, pharmaceutical waste is unavoidable. Pharmaceutical waste is most commonly generated by hospitals, clinics, pharmacies, and businesses like medical spas. Waste can include expired medications, vials or bags containing trace substances, packaging, protective gear, and spilled liquids or pills.

Medications pose a risk to the environment and human health if not handled properly. As a result, the EPA, DEA, and each state’s Department of Public Health govern the disposal of these medications with strict and complicated regulations. Professional waste companies can help you comply with legal regulations and safely dispose of your pharmaceutical waste.

Types of Hazardous Pharmaceutical Waste

Pharmaceutical waste is considered hazardous based on its chemical properties. The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) defines a medication as hazardous if it contains P-list or U-list chemicals or if it has one of the following characteristics:

Hazardous Pharmaceutical waste Types 

P-list – Pure or commercial-grade formulations of chemicals. Some examples are Warfarin, Nicotine, and Eserine.  
U-list – Chemical waste produced from discarded commercial chemical products. Some examples are Phenol-containing items, Mitomycin, and Daunomycin. 
Ignitable – Medications that are flammable fall in this category. Some examples are alcohol-based cough syrup, silver nitrate, many drugs in injection form, gel formulations with a flashpoint lower than 140 degrees, and aerosol cans with flammable propellants.
Corrosive – Medications that can cause damage to other materials on contact are corrosive. Some examples are medications preserved in nitric acid, containing sodium hydroxide, or containing acetic acid. 
Reactive – Chemicals that can explode or generate toxic fumes when mixed with other chemicals, water, or heat are reactive. Pharmaceuticals do not typically fall into this category. 
Toxic – Medications with specific concentrations of chemicals are considered toxic. Some examples are barium sulfate, items containing cresol, creams/ointments containing silver, items containing arsenic, or items containing Lindane.

These types of medications must be handled just like any other hazardous waste. Extra precautions in their disposal must be taken to eliminate pollution and health risks. Luckily, hazardous pharmaceutical waste only accounts for approximately 5 to 10 percent of all pharmaceutical waste.

Safe Handling and Disposal

Proper handling of pharmaceutical waste is not difficult when your staff is trained and provided with easy-to-follow waste management guidelines. Here is an example of the steps you can take when handling pharmaceutical waste:

The 4 Key Steps to Handle Medical Waste Safely


Healthcare organizations must be trained on waste segregation, handling, and disposal to ensure compliance with the EPA and other regulations. Hazcom Training is required for anyone that may encounter hazardous chemicals and materials on the job.

Color Coding

Different types of medical waste require different treatments to make them safe for disposal. Color coding makes waste easier to identify and treat properly.

Red bins represent biohazardous materials, including blood and bodily fluids. Yellow bins represent radioactive materials, containing items used in chemo or radiotherapy. Black bins represent hazardous materials, like dangerous medications and harmful chemicals. Blue bins represent non-hazardous solid waste, which can include regular medications and general pharmaceuticals.

Hazardous Waste Manifest

The EPA and US Department of Transportation require a hazardous waste manifest. It is a document containing information about the type and quantity of waste and includes signatures from all parties involved in the generation, transportation, and disposal process. Pharmaceutical waste generators should retain this document for their records.

Receive Free Quotes on Hazardous Pharmaceutical Waste Disposal Services Today

Medical Waste Pros will help your hospital, clinic, or business dispose of pharmaceutical waste safely and affordably. We offer training and disposal management services to assist you every step of the way. Call us today at (888) 755-6370 or fill out the form to connect with a provider near you. We will help you select containers, make a schedule, and build a system that is right for your organization.