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Managing pharmaceutical waste

Managing pharmaceutical waste can be complicated. We offer resources and technical assistance to help healthcare facilities comply with the law and protect the environment.

How to manage pharmaceutical waste

Many pharmaceuticals can pollute the environment if not properly managed and disposed of. Most waste pharmaceuticals designate as either Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) hazardous waste or Washington state-only dangerous waste.

For the full list of dangerous waste requirements refer to the Rules, Policy, and Guides page for more details. We also have a list of definitions for commonly used terms and answers to your frequently asked questions.

Management options

All healthcare facilities must: 

  1. Send controlled substances and viable pharmaceuticals to a reverse distributor or manufacturer.
  2. Choose a management option below for remaining pharmaceutical wastes.

Option 1

  • Assume all pharmaceutical waste is RCRA hazardous waste.
  • Send everything to a RCRA-permitted facility.

Option 2

  • Determine what pharmaceutical waste is RCRA hazardous waste through designation and send to a RCRA-permitted facility.
  • Assume the remainder is state-only dangerous waste and send to an incinerator under the Conditional Exclusion.

Option 3

  • Determine what pharmaceutical waste is RCRA hazardous waste through designation and send to a RCRA-permitted facility.
  • Designate remainder to determine if it is state-only dangerous waste.
    • State-only, send to an incinerator under the Conditional Exclusion.
    • Not state-only, contact your local health department for solid waste disposal options.

Rulemaking alert

Ecology plans to amend specific sections of the dangerous waste regulations to incorporate new federal hazardous waste rules. These changes will impact pharmaceutical waste.

Adopting new pharmaceutical waste rules will help healthcare facilities and waste management vendors:

  • Better understand the regulations regarding pharmaceutical waste.
  • Manage pharmaceutical waste streams properly.
  • Reduce regulatory burden.