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Medical and Pharmaceutical Waste

Medications, pills and tablets

Waste pharmaceuticals and other medical wastes can be released into the environment through improper disposal. For example, waste medications disposed of down the drain are generally routed to municipal sewage treatment plants that are not designed to effectively destroy them. As a result, those medications can pass through to Colorado's steams, rivers and lakes and potentially to downstream water users. Waste medications disposed of in a municipal landfill may reach landfill leachate and potentially groundwater.

Adverse human health effects have not been proven, but long-term exposure to medications in water supplies is a matter of concern. This concern is heightened by observed impacts on wildlife, namely reproductive abnormalities in fish living in streams containing small concentrations of endocrine disrupting compounds, ingredients in many medication and other household products. 


In addition, the risk of accidental poisoning and intentional misuse of medications is well-documented. Improper disposal or failure to dispose of unwanted medications, allows them to fall into the wrong hands. Nationally, one in five teens report they have abused drugs prescribed for others. Proper disposal helps ensure that prescription drugs only get used for their intended purposes.


The objective of these web pages is to share information that will help private individuals as well as Colorado businesses to understand and comply with Colorado's rules and recommended practices regarding medical and pharmaceutical waste. For more information, please contact us at comments.hmwmd@state.co.us .






Health Care Facilities and Other Medical Waste Generators



Medical Waste Service Providers



Interpretation Letters



Other Resources


Presentations from previous health care facilities workshops