Environmental guidance for your business in Northern Ireland & Scotland

Medicines and medicine disposal

Storage and disposal of medicine

You must store, handle and dispose of medicines safely to avoid pollution incidents.

What you must do

You must keep a register of all the medicines that are on your premises.

Storing medicines

You must properly and safely store all medicines that are bought and obtained by prescription to ensure the safety of others.

Some prescription-only medicines are classified as controlled drugs, eg morphine, pethidine and methadone. You must store these separately from other medicines in pharmacy and healthcare practices.

NHS Scotland: Safer management of controlled drugs

DHSSPS Northern Ireland: Controlled drugs

Disposing of medicines

You must dispose of medicines through specialist disposal methods. They are normally disposed of through specialist incineration. You must never dispose of them down the sink or drain.

Pharmaceutical waste

You must make arrangements for the safe management of all waste medicines. This is part of your duty of care.

The Duty of Care affects all businesses. You must make sure:

  • your waste is stored, handled, recycled or disposed of safely and legally
  • your waste is stored, handled, recycled or disposed of only by licensed individuals or businesses
  • you record all transfers of waste between your business and another business, using a waste transfer note (WTN)
  • you keep all WTNs, signed by both businesses, for at least two years
  • you record any transfer of hazardous/special waste between your business and another business, using a consignment note
  • you keep all consignment notes, signed by both businesses, for at least three years.

Duty of care - your waste responsibilities

Hazardous / special waste

Waste carriers, brokers and dealers

Medicines that are hazardous/special waste

Some medicines are classified as hazardous/special waste. Hazardous/special waste is waste that may cause harm to human health or the environment.

Hazardous/special waste

Cytotoxic and cytostatic medicinal wastes are classified as hazardous/special waste. Cytotoxic and cytostatic medicines are medicines that are either toxic, carcinogenic, mutagenic or toxic for reproduction.

Cytotoxic and cytostatic waste

The classification of medicines as hazardous/special waste is very complex. The environmental regulators provide guidance to help you assess if your waste is hazardous/special.

Northern Ireland Environment Agency: Hazardous waste

SEPA: Hazardous waste - interpretation of the definition and classification of hazardous waste

Good practice

Storing medicines

Store medicines in their original container or in the container they were dispensed in.

Store all medicines in a designated locked area.

Keep liquid medicines separate from other medicines in tablet or powder form, even when they are in their original container. This is to prevent cross-contamination through spills and leaks.

Store medicines in a safe place and away from children and animals. You should prevent unnecessary accumulation of stored medicines.

Where available, you should keep a copy of the Safety Data Sheet (SDS). If an SDS is not provided with the medicine you may request a copy from the manufacturer or importer of the medicine. The MSDS gives information on how chemicals should be handled, stored and disposed of, and what to do in the case of an accident.

Further information

The Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Authority (MHRA) is responsible for ensuring that medicines and medical devices work and are acceptably safe.

Medicines and Healthcare Regulatory Authority (MHRA)

SEE ALSO: Healthcare guidance

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