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Waste inhalers

The aerosol metered-dose inhalers with chloro-fluorocarbons (CFC) as the propellant were phased out of production by the U.S. Food and Drug Administration by the end of 2013, 21 Code of Federal Regulations, Part 2. However, current inhalers might still contain dangerous waste. Information about how to manage waste inhalers is provided below.

It is a violation of the dangerous waste rules to dispose of inhalers in the sewer, a sharps container, or a regulated medical waste container destined for a landfill.

Definitions

Unused inhalers 
Discontinued, outdated, or unused and unopened products that should be returned to the pharmacy to determine if they can be returned for credit with a reverse distributor. If they can’t be returned for credit, they are non-viable pharmaceutical wastes.

Non-viable pharmaceutical waste
When products have been opened and only partially used they become a non-viable pharmaceutical waste.

Empty inhalers
Empty inhalers contain no product and no pressure. For designation and waste management, please see empty containers.

Designating waste inhalers

RCRA hazardous inhaler waste
Non-viable formulations that designate under the Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) have characteristics of ignitability, corrosivity, reactivity or toxicity (WAC 173-303-090).

  • Metered-dose inhalers (MDIs) use chemical propellants to expel the medication from the inhaler. To administer the medication, the patient may either use direct inhalation or squeeze the inhaler's canister. Some examples include Atrovent, Azmacort, Nasacort, Proventil, and QVAR.
  • Non-viable MDIs are RCRA hazardous wastes because the propellant designates as a RCRA hazardous waste for ignitability (D001). This includes those using chlorofluorocarbons as the propellant, such as Tilade, Alupent, Azmacort, Intal (off the market by Dec. 31, 2010), Aerobid, Combivent, and Maxair (phased out by Dec. 21, 2013).
  • Epinephrine inhalers containing only epinephrine or epinephrine salts as the sole active ingredient designate as a P042 RCRA hazardous waste. Please see Epinephrine waste.

State-only dangerous waste
You can assume any non-viable inhalers that are not RCRA hazardous waste are state-only dangerous waste. To determine they are not state-only dangerous waste, you must know the concentration of all the constituents as well as the acute toxicity information of those ingredients. See Pharmaceutical Designation Flowchart.

  • Dry powder inhalers (DPIs) release medication via rapid inhalation instead of using chemical propellants. Some examples include Advair, Albuterol, Alupent, Combivent, Cromolyn, Flovent, Maxair, Nasonex, Pulmicort, Salbutamol, Symbicort, and Ventolin.
  • Non-viable DPIs commonly designate as state-only dangerous waste due to the toxicity of the pharmaceutical constituent, (WT02).

Managing waste inhalers

Viable inhalers are eligible for credit from a manufacturer, wholesaler, or reverse distributor and not considered waste. Viable pharmaceuticals include any unused and/or unopened pharmaceutical that receives a credit. Items not receiving a credit must be managed as non-viable waste.

RCRA hazardous waste must be disposed as dangerous waste at a RCRA-permitted facility.

State-only dangerous waste must be disposed as either dangerous waste at a RCRA-permitted facility or as excluded waste at an incinerator meeting the criteria of the Conditional Exclusion.

See Pharmaceutical Waste Management Flowchart.