Non-hazardous pharmaceutical waste sounds benign enough. After all, it’s got “non-hazardous” in the name. And if it’s non-hazardous, it can be disposed of along with the regular trash, right? Not so fast.
Classifying Non-Hazardous Pharmaceutical Waste
Non-hazardous pharmaceutical waste is a bit of a misnomer in that it’s not as harmless as it sounds. It still poses health risks to the environment. Better terminology is non-RCRA pharmaceutical waste. RCRA stands for Resource Conservation and Recovery Act, the legislation through which the Environmental Protection Agency governs how hazardous waste must be treated and disposed of.
Non-hazardous or non-RCRA waste is waste that is not governed by RCRA laws. But it still must be disposed of properly in order to protect our communities and comply with other state and federal regulations.
Non-RCRA pharmaceutical waste accounts for about 85 percent of all hospital pharmacy inventory waste, and includes:
- U- and P-listed drugs in which the listed chemicals are not the sole active ingredient.
- Drugs listed as hazardous by the Occupational Safety and Health Administration (OSHA).
- Drugs categorized as carcinogenic by the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services National Toxicology Program.
- Drugs categorized as LD50 at or below 50 mg/kg.
- Any endocrine-disrupting compounds not already covered above.
- Any vitamin or mineral supplements that contain enough chromium, selenium or cadmium to fail the toxicity test or for which there is insufficient information to make a determination.
Disposing of Non-Hazardous Pharmaceutical Waste
The best way to keep non-RCRA pharmaceutical waste out of our landfills and water supply is to segregate it and have it incinerated. Non-RCRA pharmaceutical waste often is disposed of in white containers with blue lids. Pharmaceutical waste containers should be clearly labeled “for incineration.” It’s important to train all staff on what should be disposed of in this way versus RCRA hazardous waste and biohazardous waste containers.
As a reminder, all medical waste should be housed in a secure area away from the public. Non-RCRA pharmaceutical waste, hazardous waste and biohazardous waste should be collected and disposed of by a state- and federally-compliant pharmaceutical waste disposal service.