Pharmaceutical Waste

Pharmaceutical Waste Disposal

Understanding what classifies as pharmaceutical waste and how to handle it is a critical part of the operations of any pharmaceutical company or organization. However, it can be confusing to try to decipher regulations and other legal and medical guidelines. Our Family at All Florida Medical Waste is happy to help in any way we can.

Defining Pharmaceutical Waste

The definition is quite simple in that it deals with any medication that has expired or not been used for any reason. It can be further classified as either hazardous or non-hazardous, depending on the chemical compounds found in the medication. These compounds may provide a risk to humans or the environment. It is critical to know the difference for each medication that is disposed of because the rules are different.

Regulations and Risks

The Environmental Protection Agency or EPA plays an important role in monitoring disposal of pharmaceuticals. It develops the laws and statutes that govern the handling of medications that need to be disposed of.

The regulations from the EPA don’t require non-hazardous medications to be handled in the same way as hazardous products. However, individual states may have stricter requirements.

Along with the EPA, the US Department of Transportation is concerned with transporting medications to waste facilities and the method in which they are moved from one location to the next. The US Drug Enforcement Administration is primarily concerned about controlled substances and how they are handled as waste.

The risks of improper handling of pharmaceutical waste include contaminating the ground and drinking water as well as harming plants and animals. Some examples of medications which are not disposed of properly include tossing them in the trash can or flushing them down the sink or toilet. It’s also not safe to dispose of hazardous medication waste with non-hazardous drugs.

Classifying Pharmaceutical Waste

Hazardous pharmaceutical waste is classified into three categories. These include the following:

  • P-list waste – includes acutely hazardous products such as nicotine patches
  • U-list waste – includes chemotherapy drugs
  • Characteristic hazardous waste – drugs not on one of the other lists but classified as hazardous

The four types of characteristics of hazardous drugs help to determine how the waste should be handled. These four types include:

  • Toxic – this definition from the EPA is different from other definitions of toxicity and is determined by the concentration of the chemical in the drug. Examples of toxic chemicals include selenium and mercury.
  • Corrosive – this characteristic includes acids as well as bases, such as glutaraldehyde. The definition is based on the pH of the chemical.
  • Reactive – this characteristic reacts with other chemicals, which can then create toxic fumes or explode.
  • Ignitable – this quality includes drugs that are flammable, such as some cough syrups with an alcohol base.

Regulations for Pharmaceutical Organizations

EPA regulations differ based on how much pharmaceutical waste is generated by the organization. For instance, a nursing home may be classified as a very small quantity generator while another facility may be labeled as a small quantity generator or a large quantity generator. The classification depends on how much hazardous waste is generated by the facility or organization.

Staff that must handle pharmaceutical waste must be trained on preparing it for disposal, placing it correctly into the containers, labeling the containers and filling out related paperwork. They must know how to handle the containers as they are transported. Hiring an outside waste disposal company with experience in medical waste is the best way to ensure that all regulations are followed and that the facility maintains compliance.

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