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How to properly get rid of your expired and unwanted medications

unwanted medicine

It’s that time of year when we’re all thinking about spring cleaning our homes. But while the spots in our home where we spend most of our time (like our living rooms and bedrooms) get all the attention, there’s one place that tends to be seriously neglected: our medicine cabinets! While our pillows are perfectly fluffed and our coffee tables are sparkling clean, our medication stash gathers dust in the spare room. You know what they say — out of sight, out of mind!

But it turns out, we should be all be paying a lot more attention to our medicine collections. According to Return Unwanted Medicine (The RUM Project), it is estimated that there are millions of medicines sitting in Australian homes – either out-of-date or no longer needed.

“Last year alone, over 700 tonnes of medicines were collected and safely disposed of by the RUM Project, preventing it from ending up in waterways or landfill,” says Toni Riley, Return Unwanted Medicine project manager and community pharmacist. “If that’s only medicines collected from around 20% of the population, imagine how many more are hiding in bathroom cabinets and kitchen drawers across the country.”

Keeping unwanted and expired medicines in our homes significantly increases the risk of potentially fatal poisonings and medication mix-ups. According to a study published in the Medical Journal of Australia, more than 1000 people over 65 require hospitalisation each year due to medicine poisonings. This is far more common in seniors than any other demographic, due to a higher amount of medicine taken on average. Not only that, seniors generally require longer hospital stays and have a higher mortality rate from accidental poisonings than other age groups. Children and pets are also at a high risk of medicine poisoning.

Sometimes we keep medicines because we think we may need them in the future or because they were expensive. Or, because we simply don’t know how to get rid of them! A recent Griffith University study of over 4300 Australians showed that 80% of people are unaware of The RUM Project and don’t know how to properly dispose of medicines.

Of the respondents who did regularly clean out their medicine cabinet, 67% said they disposed of unwanted medicines with the usual household garbage, while 23% reported that they flushed it down the drain. Both of these methods can have a devastating impact on the environment, as the medicine ends up in landfills and contaminating waterways.

Luckily, the correct way to dispose of unwanted medicine is just as easy. It’s simply a matter of following this three-step process from Return Unwanted Medicines.

READ: Go to the areas in your home where you store medicines. Read the labels, check expiry dates and review all medicines. Consider whether you actually need them.

REMOVE: Remove all expired and unwanted medicines from your home medicine area and place them in a bag or container.

RETURN: Return your expired and unwanted medicines to your local pharmacy.  Your pharmacist will put them in a secure bin for safe disposal. Prescription medicines, over-the-counter medicines, herbal or complementary supplements, gels, liquids, creams and veterinary medicines can all be disposed of in a designated The RUM Project bin.

“By following three simple steps of READ, REMOVE & RETURN, Australians can minimise the risk of unintended poisonings and medication mix-ups, and do their bit to protect the environment,” says Toni Riley from Return Unwanted Medicines.


Return Unwanted Medicines — or The RUM Project — is a Federal government-funded initiative that provides all Australians with a free and convenient way to dispose of expired and unwanted household medicines. Anyone can return their medicines to any community pharmacy at any time, for safe collection and disposal. You can find out more about The RUM Project here.

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Alana Lowes

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