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How to dispose of veterinary medicines

27 Jun 2022 | Donal Murphy


Using veterinary medicines usually results in waste, and how that is handled can have an impact on the environment, as well as animal and human health. As part of our efforts to create greener veterinary practices, it is important to understand what can legally be recycled and what needs to be handled with extra care. Donal Murphy, Head of International and Regulatory Affairs at NOAH, explains how to make sure you are correctly disposing of product packaging and unused medicines.

How to dispose of veterinary medicines Image

Proper management of waste arising from Veterinary Medicinal Products (VMPs), in veterinary practices, households or farms, is an integral part of the responsible use of medicines and contributes to human, animal and environmental health and sustainability. The implementation of best practices in disposal by all operators in the animal health management chain to reduce waste arising from veterinary medicines and minimise the impact of their disposal on the environment are therefore essential (EPRUMA, 2020).

Waste management including correct disposal of product packaging and unused or partially used VMPs is a key part of continuing to ensure and improve the sustainability of veterinary practices.

What is pharmaceutical waste?

Here we mean pharmaceutical waste generated from used, unused or expired veterinary medicines or medicated feed containing medicinal products, including their immediate packaging eg the bottle or plastic container that contained the product.

Pharmaceutical waste can arise for many different reasons, for example:

  • Immediate packaging and any small residual amounts of VMPs in the packaging after use.
  • Veterinary medicines, pre-loaded medical devices (eg equine worming syringes) or medicated feeds that have passed their expiry date.
  • Veterinary medicines or medicated feed that have not been stored in accordance with the instructions (eg, not refrigerated) and therefore the stability of the product may have been compromised and the product cannot be used.
  • Prescription of a quantity of medicine exceeding the required quantity.
  • Uncompleted course of treatment due to either administration difficulties, suspected adverse events or change in treatment.

Everybody (prescribers and end users) is responsible for minimising pharmaceutical waste and ensuring the correct disposal of that waste.

How do I know how to dispose of the product safely?

Every VMP comes with a document which outlines the features of a veterinary medicinal product, known as the Summary of Product Characteristics – this also contains information about disposal. Make sure you familiarise yourself with the requirements for all products you use.

The advice contained will vary from product to product, but frequently will contain statements along the lines of “dispose of in accordance with local requirements”. In practice, these local requirements generally require the waste product to be taken for specialist incineration. Some products will also include specific warnings relating to their safe use and disposal of unused product. It is essential that such warnings are adhered to. Some important points to remember are:

  • Empty containers, unused medicines or partially used medicines must be taken for incineration at an appropriately permitted facility. It is important veterinary practices do not dispose of such items with domestic rubbish or pour animal medicines down the drain or toilet.
  • VMPs with special precautions, such as companion animal chemotherapy medicines or Controlled Drugs, need particular care in their handling and disposal and have specific requirements for correct and safe disposal that the practice must follow.

What about the rest of the packaging?

Other packaging such as secondary packaging (eg cardboard boxes that contain bottles) and the package leaflet which is not in direct contact with the medicinal product are not included in scope here. These can be disposed of or preferably recycled in the normal manner as for other waste eg food packaging/delivery box packaging, in accordance with local authority waste disposal rules. It is important to separate this from the clinical waste to make sure as much waste can be recycled as possible.

The packaging of veterinary medicinal products is heavily regulated, so animal health companies and the regulatory authorities have very limited scope to reduce packaging based on the current regulatory framework for veterinary medicines. The information and format for provision of information is specified in the legislation, limiting the scope to reduce such packaging.

The good news is that the UK Veterinary Medicines Regulations are expected to change in the near future, with a public consultation expected before the end of 2022, and as part of that consultation, animal health companies are exploring ways to reduce the volume of packaging provided with VMPs. Make sure you respond to the consultation if you’d like to see a changes to the laws that facilitated a reduction in the volume of packaging.

More information

A heavily regulated matter, such as waste disposal in compliance with regulatory requirements, is difficult to summarise in brief. Readers are encouraged to refer to more in-depth guidance on this matter, which sets out requirements for different product types in more detail, such as the BVA Handling veterinary waste guidance posters, BSAVA Medicines Guide and NOAH compendium of Datasheets for Animal Medicines.

Take Home Message

The incorrect disposal of veterinary medicines must be avoided to improve the sustainability of the animal health sector. By implementing best practices for disposing of veterinary medicinal products human, animal, and environmental health can be safeguarded.

It is also essential that vets and animal owners refer to product packaging to ensure that they are aware of any warnings or precautions relating to both the safe use and disposal of the product and the associated packaging.


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