Liquid Medication Disposal

Published: 19 Sep 2017

Author: Lynne Green, Registered Nurse, (BN, PG cert) Wakefield Hospital 

We all want to leave a positive footprint on our environment for both our generation and future generations.

Wakefield Hospital is committed to doing their part for the environment, and is achieving this by no longer polluting our waterways with liquid drugs including opioids. This in turn is protecting the aquatic life and eventually the food chain. We are aiming to be the leading private hospital in New Zealand that stops pouring medications into our waterway system and helping protect our environment. 

Intensive research worldwide and in New Zealand has shown that unused liquid drugs disposed of down the sink and toilet into the waterway and sewage system are detrimental to the environment (Tong, Peake & Braund, 2011). Eustice, (2010) states "just because this method is still common practice does not make it responsible or safest practice". She also states that "proper disposal is still an emerging environmental issue". Journal of Environmental Health (2003 and 2004) are aware of the impact of medicines such as antibiotics, hormone painkillers and anti-depressants are now found in the waterways and are raising questions about potential health and environmental impact. Studies have linked hormone exposure to reproductive side effects on fish. Bound & Vouloulis, (2005) have also discovered the contamination and side effects of pharmaceuticals in aquatic life in both fresh and marine waters in the United Kingdom. Wellington Regional Council website states pollutants can cause damage at the Moa Point Treatment Plant (Wellington Government, 2012, Wellington Government Trade Waste Bylaw, 2004). Gielen, (2007) of University of Canterbury Research Repository states that pharmaceutical impact of the environment is poorly understood. Sewage treatment plants are unable to completely remove the pharmaceuticals and this in itself effects the micro-organism community.

You are asking what and how have Wakefield Hospital been able to accomplish this by making changes to long-term practices?

A successful trial over a three month period was performed in various areas of Wakefield Hospital using different mediums such as newspaper, tissue paper, kitty litter and coffee grounds. None of these mediums achieved the results wanted for ease of disposal and being odour free. Verna gel powder was trialled and found to be very efficient. Verna gel allowed good absorption of the liquid drug turning it into a solid matter. It was then suitable to be destroyed. From one ward alone an average volume disposed of in one month was 2407.7mls.


Following the trial a change to the relevant Wakefield Hospital policy was put into practice and successfully instigated. No liquid medications are now put down the sink, therefore no pollution to our waterways or sewerage system comes from Wakefield Hospital.

Disposing into the waterways is not desirable although it is the easy route taken. This is a world-wide problem that is now being addressed in a limited way. Serious consideration to alternative methods can be achieved at a very low cost in dollars but with a huge saving to the environment.

In summary a positive move to the future would be to see all hospitals and pharmacies throughout New Zealand take on this method of drug disposal. This then will make a major footprint on our environment and help clean up our waterways, in turn helping maintain healthy aquatic life and human health. We can then look forward to a positive future for all generations.


Journal of Environmental Health. Vol 66(10) 42. Retrieved Apr 4, 2012 from

Bound, J.P., & Voulvoulis, N. (2005). Household Disposal of Pharmaceuticals as a Pathway for Aquatic Contamination in the United Kingdom. Environmental Health Perspectives. Vol 113(12) 1705-11. Retrieved Apr 4, 2012 from

Euctice, C. (2011). How to Safely Dispose of Unused Medications. Arthritis & Joint Conditions. Retrieved Jul 22, 2011 from

Gielen, G.J.H.P. (2007). The fate and effects of sewage-derived pharmaceuticals in soil. University of Canterbury, UC Research Repository. Retrieved May 15, 2012 from Medical Letter. Drug Disposal; How to dump old medicine? No easy answer. (2003) Journal of Environmental Health. Retrieved Jul 22, 2011 from

Peake, B.M. & Braund, R. (April, 2009). Environmental Aspects of the Disposal of Pharmaceuticals in New Zealand. Chemistry in New Zealand, p58-63. University of Otago, Dunedin.

Tong, A.Y.C., Peake, B.M., Braund, R. (2011). Disposal practices for unused medications in New Zealand community pharmacies. Journal of Primary Health Care. Vol 3 (3) 197-203. 

Wakefield Hospital Policy. Controlled Drugs Disposal in Wakefield Hospital, C.07.02. Reviewed Sept, 2016. 

Wellington Government. (2012). Stormwater Network. Retrieved May 15, 2012 from

Wellington Government Tradewaste (2004). Managing Trade Waste. Retrieved Aug 23, 2012 from