Managing pharmaceutical waste

Waste pharmaceuticals can affect the environment if they are not properly managed. Pharmaceuticals have been detected in water, sediments, and fish. We regulate businesses to ensure they properly manage waste pharmaceuticals.

As the agency charged with protecting Washington's environment, we also offer resources and technical assistance to help healthcare facilities comply with the law and protect the environment.

medicine bottles, pill packets, and syringes

New pharmaceutical waste regulations

As of Oct. 31, 2020, special requirements for the management of dangerous waste pharmaceuticals (WAC 173-303-555) went into effect. The new rules outline the management requirements for:

Who must follow the new rules?

The special requirements apply to health care facilities that:

  • Provide preventative, diagnostic, therapeutic, rehabilitative, or palliative care to improve the physical or mental condition of humans and animals, OR
  • Sell or distribute pharmaceuticals.
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Step 1: Count your dangerous waste

Count BOTH your dangerous waste pharmaceuticals and nonpharmaceutical dangerous waste each month to determine if the special requirements apply to your facility.

If you generate the following amount of dangerous waste in a calendar month, the special requirements are required: 

  • Greater than 2.2 pounds of dangerous waste with a quantity exclusion limit (QEL) of 2.2 pounds, OR
  • Greater than 220 pounds of dangerous waste with a QEL of 220 pounds, OR
  • Greater than 220 pounds of residue or contaminated soil, water, or other debris resulting from the cleanup of a spill to land or water of any dangerous waste with a QEL of 2.2 pounds.

Unsure what types of waste you have? See our designation page.

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Step 2: Determine your generator category

If the special requirements apply to your facility, use your nonpharmaceutical dangerous waste count from Step 1 to determine your generator category.

Your generator category is important because this determines what rules apply to your nonpharmaceutical wastes.

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Step 3: Notify Ecology within 60 days

Health care facilities must notify Ecology within 60 days of being subject to the special requirements.

How to manage waste pharmaceuticals under the new rules

The new rules outline the management requirements for noncreditable dangerous waste pharmaceuticals and potentially creditable pharmaceutical waste.


Need more help?

See our webinars below for more help understanding the new pharmaceutical rules or visit our Frequently asked questions page for more answers. 

Guidance for hospitals and larger health care facilities

Watch the webinar our health care team conducted explaining how the new pharmaceutical rules apply to hospitals and larger health care facilities.

Available formats: YouTube | PDF slides

Guidance for clinics and smaller health care facilities

Watch the webinar our health care team conducted explaining how the new pharmaceutical rules apply to clinics and smaller health care facilities.

Available formats: YouTube | PDF slides