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Waste tablets and capsules

Pills are often disposed of in the garbage or sewer where they eventually find their way into the environment. Proper disposal and management of pharmaceutical waste will help keep our waters and environment clean and healthy. Find guidance on properly managing and disposing of pills and capsules here.

Managing waste pills and capsules

Many pharmaceutical tablets and capsules have the potential of designating as dangerous waste.

  • Some contain sole active ingredients that are Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) P- or U-listed hazardous wastes, such as warfarin and reserpine.
  • Others have ingredients that designate as RCRA hazardous waste for toxicity, such as chromium, selenium, and cadmium.
  • Chemotherapy pharmaceuticals often designate as dangerous waste.

Return discontinued, outdated, or unused and unopened products to the pharmacy to determine if they can be sent for credit to a reverse distributor. If they can’t be returned for credit, they are non-viable pharmaceutical waste. If waste tablets and capsules are a controlled substance, they might need special management.

Management of non-viable tablets and capsules

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

RCRA hazardous waste

Includes non-viable waste that that contains a P or U-listed constituent or fails the RCRA characteristics of ignitability, corrosivity, reactivity, or toxicity, (WAC 173-303-090). Dispose as dangerous waste at a RCRA-permitted facility.

State-only dangerous waste

You can assume that tablets or capsules that are not RCRA hazardous wastes are state-only dangerous waste. To determine that waste tablets or capsules are not state-only dangerous waste, you must know the concentration of the pharmaceuticals in the waste as well as the acute toxicity information of the pharmaceuticals. Refer to WAC 173-303-100.

Dispose as either dangerous waste at a RCRA-permitted facility or as excluded waste at an incinerator meeting the criteria of the Conditional Exclusion.

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