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The Department of the Environment releases the “San Francisco Medicine Waste Characterization Study” evaluating the types of unwanted and expired medicine being disposed.

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recycling-to-save-the-earthThe San Francisco Department of the Environment, in collaboration with the San Francisco Public Utilities Commission (SFPUC) and San Francisco Police Department (SFPD), launched the Safe Medicine Disposal Pilot Program in April 2012. The Pilot Program utilizes funding from pharmaceutical manufacturers to provide San Franciscans with a local and convenient opportunity to dispose of unwanted and expired medicines while protecting public health and the environment.  This week, the Department and its partners announced an agreement with the Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers of America (PhRMA) to continue to fund the pilot program for an additional year with a new grant in the amount of $125,000.

As part of the initial pilot, the Department of the Environment commissioned a medicine waste characterization study to evaluate the types of products disposed using the program.  The identification and characterization of the items in the study was performed by Supporting Initiatives to Redistribute Unused Medicine (SIRUM).  Dr. Joel Kreisberg of the Teleosis Institute, author of the Bay Area Medication Disposal Study 2009, was contracted to evaluate the data and present findings.  The Study inventoried one week’s worth of unwanted medicines collected at each of the 13 partner pharmacies and one month’s worth of unwanted medicines collected at all ten of San Francisco’s police stations for a total sample size of 472 pounds.

Key findings of the Study include:

  • 71.9% of items[1] identified in the sample were prescription medications.
  • Testosterone (3.3%), sevelamer carbonate (2.5%), ibuprofen (2.5%), acetaminophen (2.1%) and albuterol (2.0%) were the most commonly returned active ingredients in items identified in the sample.
  • Renvela (5.9%) and Testim 1% (5.5%) were the most common proprietary or brand name medications returned by a large margin.
  • Teva, a manufacturer of generic medications, represented the most commonly identified manufacturer of items (7.8%) in the sample.
  • The three most common therapeutic classes represented were central nervous system agents (17.4%), cardiovascular agents (11.4%), and respiratory agents (11.1%).
  • Controlled substances were identified as 11.6% of the items in the sample.

Read Full Press Release   Safe Medicine Disposal Waste Study Release

Read Full Report San Francisco Medicine Waste Charaterization Study


[1] Please keep in mind that the “item” as a unit of measurement represents a container of one type of medication, like a pill bottle or a bottle of liquid medication. An item may similarly represent groupings of identical loose pills returned without their original container.  To reduce the volume of waste requiring special management, residents are requested to empty unwanted pills into a plastic bag or directly into the collection bin and recycle the original container.


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