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Managing Pharmaceutical Waste

Rulemaking Alert!

Ecology plans to amend specific sections of the dangerous waste regulations to incorporate new federal hazardous waste rules. These changes will impact pharmaceutical waste.

Adopting new pharmaceutical waste rules will help healthcare facilities and waste management vendors better understand the regulations regarding pharmaceutical waste, manage this waste stream properly, and reduce their regulatory burden.

Pharmaceuticals are an important part of maintaining human health, but many pharmaceuticals contain toxic chemicals that can pollute the environment if not properly managed and disposed of. Ecology works with health care facilities to ensure that pharmaceutical waste is handled and disposed of according to state and federal laws. Properly managing pharmaceutical waste can be complicated, so Ecology offers resources and technical assistance to help health care facilities comply with the law and protect the environment.

Most waste pharmaceuticals designate as either Resource Conservation and Recovery Act (RCRA) hazardous waste or Washington state-only dangerous waste, Dangerous Waste Regulations, Chapter 173-303-100 Washington Administrative Code (WAC).

Management options available for pharmaceutical waste are listed below. The list does not include all applicable dangerous waste requirements. Refer to the Rules, Policy, and Guides page for more details. Links to guidance for specific pharmaceutical wastes are listed in the left panel of this page.

  1. Send controlled substances and viable pharmaceuticals to a reverse distributor or manufacturer.
  2. Choose a management option below for remaining pharmaceutical wastes.

Option 1

  • Assume all pharmaceutical waste is RCRA hazardous waste.
  • Send all to RCRA-permitted facility.

Option 2

  • Designate which pharmaceutical waste is RCRA hazardous waste and send to a RCRA-permitted facility.
  • Assume remainder is state-only dangerous waste and send to an incinerator under the Conditional Exclusion.

Option 3

  • Designate which pharmaceutical waste is RCRA waste and send to a RCRA-permitted facility.
  • Designate remainder to determine if it is state-only dangerous waste.
    • State-only, send to incinerator under the Conditional Exclusion.
    • Not state-only, contact local health district for solid waste disposal options.

Related information

Interim Pharmaceutical Waste Policy

Guide for Dangerous Pharmaceutical Waste Generators in Washington State

FAQs About Pharmaceutical Waste

Focus on Dangerous Waste: Handle Pharmaceutical Waste Properly

Best Management Practices for Hospital Waste

Talk to someone at Ecology about pharmaceutical waste