Health Reform

Keys To Proper Disposal Of Pharmaceutical Waste

2 Mins read


Healthcare facilities, like hospitals and clinics, as well as reverse distributors, need to follow specific guidelines when they dispose of pharmaceutical waste. If they don’t, they run the risk of fines or other punishment.

The Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) is the primary law that governs the disposal of pharmaceutical waste in the United States. Failure to comply with the RCRA can mean exorbitant fines — up to $74,552 per day, per violation. If your pharmaceutical waste disposal program isn’t compliant over even a short period, it can result in severe fines. Compliance is especially important for large, multi-enterprise organizations.

Here are critical points about pharmaceutical waste disposal organizations should know if they want to remain RCRA-compliant.

Basics of Disposing Pharmaceutical Waste

The RCRA governs almost all pharmaceutical waste. You must dispose of operational by-products in a safe and eco-friendly manner.

The first step to removing any kind of pharmaceutical waste is knowing how to separate the different types. Different kinds of waste require different disposal methods. Proper containers can prevent leaks and puncturing.

There are several different categories of pharmaceutical waste. Each will need disposed of in separate containers. These categories include:

  • Biohazardous waste
  • Hazardous waste
  • Chemotherapy waste
  • Controlled substances

Non-DEA, non-hazardous pharmaceutical waste will likely make up the bulk of your output.

In some specific cases, disposable medical equipment that came in contact with a certain kind of waste, such as medical vials, syringes and IV tubes, should be disposed of in the same manner as the waste. Even doctors and nurses should get rid of gloves used during chemotherapy administration in a container explicitly marked for harmful waste.

Needles and other sharp objects need to be stored in a heavy-duty plastic container graded for sharp objects.

You will need to dispose of any controlled substance according to DEA regulations. A licensed reverse distributor will be equipped to accept and dispose of controlled substances properly. In some cases, you can return these substances to the manufacturer.

All waste will need to be placed in an appropriately-marked container, even if it is non-DEA and non-hazardous. These methods ensure you’ll properly dispose of waste in a way that meets environmental regulations.

Pharmaceutical Waste Disposal Strategies

Typically, pharmacy waste is disposed of, recycled or destroyed if some of the materials contain confidential information. How the waste is destroyed or disposed of varies on the type and who’s recycling it.

The waste can be sent to a landfill, incinerated, permanently sealed within a container or returned to the manufacturer. Other methods, like waste-to-energy plants, safely dispose of pharmaceutical waste while generating energy.

If you want to dispose of pharmaceutical waste in the most environmentally-friendly or sustainable way, there are options available. Research what’s possible with the type of waste you create.

One of the best strategies is to contract with a licensed biomedical disposal service. The risks for noncompliance with the RCRA are high, and the act itself is a complicated piece of legislation with many provisions for different substances. An expert will understand what’s required to stay compliant with the law.

Ensuring Proper Pharmaceutical Waste Disposal

Healthcare facilities are bound by pharmaceutical waste disposal standards and guidelines. Facilities must follow these guidelines carefully if they don’t want to risk noncompliance and eventual fines.


If you want to ensure operations fall within the RCRA, work with a service that will dispose of your pharmaceutical waste. There are several ways you can get rid of operational byproduct. Research options available and select one that works best for your organization. It’s possible to remove pharmaceutical waste in a sustainable and eco-friendly way.

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