How to dispose of old medications and pills

When was the last time you decluttered old and unwanted medicines, vitamins and supplements?

If you’re like most people, it’s probably been too long!

Why declutter and dispose of old and expired pills?

Medicines and pills don’t last forever. Their potency declines over time. At best your medicine won’t be as effective. At worst, you might experience negative side effects from not having the proper dosage.

Keep an eye on those expiration dates. And even if a medicine isn’t expired, if you haven’t used it in a year or more, you can probably let it go.

To declutter unwanted and expired pills, follow our Step-by-Step Decluttering process.

  1. Collect the items you want to sort through
  2. Working quickly, look at each item and decide if it should be discarded or kept.
  3. When finished, put away your keepers and clean up your discards. See tips below for instructions on how to safely discard medicines.

Safety first when throwing away expired meds!

Observe a few simple rules so that you don’t contaminate the water supply or otherwise cause a safety risk.

The FDA says that most medicines can be thrown in the trash (except those with explicit instructions to flush or dispose of otherwise.) [Reference]

To throw medication in the trash, follow these steps:

  1. Remove the pills from their original containers and mix them with something undesirable, such as used coffee grounds, dirt, or cat litter. This makes the medicine less appealing to children and pets and unrecognizable to someone who might intentionally go through the trash looking for drugs.
  2. Put the mixture in something you can close like a zip top bag or empty coffee can) to prevent the drug from spilling out.
  3. Throw the container in the garbage.
  4. Black out all your personal information on the empty medicine packaging to protect your identity and privacy. Throw the packaging away.

You can also contact your local pharmacy, doctor’s office, country or police station to see if they accept expired or unneeded medicines.

Some medicines must be disposed of in a take-back program or flushed down the toilet

The FDA advises that certain medicines are so dangerous, that they must either be returned to a drug take-back program or flushed if no longer needed.

You can read the FDA Flush list here.

Never put Epi-pens in the trash

They need to be treated as medical waste. Some doctors’ offices may take them. Visit SafeNeedleDisposal.org for a list of nearby disposal facilities.

Or, you can see if your local school would like them to use for staff training purposes.

Did you know you can donate your empty pill bottles?

Matthew 25 Ministries accepts donations of empty pill bottles!

How to organize and store pills

Think convenience and safety. If you take medications regularly, you’ll want to use a pill sorter or organizer to make it convenient to take your pills. This will also help you get all those pill bottles off your counter and into a cupboard. Just leave the pill sorter out and refill as needed.

Of course, always observe all safety and refrigeration instructions.

Pill sorters and organizers

(Affiliate links are present)


This option uses color-coding and symbols to keep you organized.

This organizer holds all your pills for the entire month.

This weekly organizer has room for 4 different time slots.

This organizer is stylish enough to take on the go.

This quilted organizer is cute!


If you’ve got young children, you may want to consider locking up your medication in a box like this.

This travel pill organizer is fun! These containers are great for holding other small items too such as paper clips, earrings, coins, etc.

If you’ve got a lot of bottles, bins like this keep them all together. Bonus points for the lids and ability to stack!


Got a pill drawer? This organizer keeps things in place.

These plastic bins are the perfect size for storing a large number of pill bottles. They fit inside most cupboards.

When was the last time you decluttered your medicines?


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4 thoughts on “How to dispose of old medications and pills”

  1. Although FDA does allow trash disposal for some medications, it is best to bring all expired medications, needles (in approved biohazard or medical waste containers) AND packaging ie. bottles, blister packs, containers etc. to your local pharmacy for safe disposal. This way you do not risk contamination of our waterways or soil. Pill bottles are not recyclable because of risk of contamination even if made from #1 or #2 plastics. So as a result they end up in landfills or floating around in our waterways. Because of the solution to disposal of medical waste being in place for hospitals and the like, disposal at your local pharmacy is simply the best policy.

  2. It is NEVER a good idea to flush or throw away meds. ALWAYS check with your local Police dept. to see when the next take back drugs day. Even some Pharmacies will allow ou to drop off expired meds any day.

  3. Good info. I was told ‘never’ to flush medications sometime in the past and thus throw them away (properly). But I am also on a septic system and I did not see info about that on the link- I’m concerned about the medication affecting animals and the creek below once it all ends up past the septic tank and into the soil. Does the process of the septic tank break it all down?
    I’ve rarely seen return places here in TN. I also contacted the sheriff and hospital if they had a way to do that. Not at this time I was told. In Nashville I’ve occasionally seen the bins in a Walgreens, but not nearby to me. 🙁 Thankfully, we don’t have much overall.


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Welcome. I’m Sarah!


I’m the creator of Decluttering School (formerly known as Early Bird Mom), lover of organized spaces, encourager to women and mom to four boys. Click here to read more!

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