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Collecting household pharmaceutical waste

Find out how to collect unused household pharmaceuticals in Wisconsin, comply with state and federal laws, provide for proper disposal and fund your program. This page offers guidance for collection events or ongoing collection sites. Those intending to offer mail-back services should contact the state Department of Natural Resources and the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration for further direction.

Wisconsin law enforcement agencies are strongly encouraged to work with the Wisconsin Department of Justice or federal Drug Enforcement Administration for the disposal of collected household pharmaceuticals. See details below under Funding your collection program.

Federal drug disposal regulations

Anyone intending to collect drugs should read the DEA regulations carefully. Law enforcement agencies do not need DEA approval to collect drugs but must follow DEA regulations. Other collection facilities need DEA approval.

State regulations for household pharmaceutical collection

Environmental regulations remain unchanged with respect to collection and disposal. Household pharmaceutical waste is excluded from regulation as a hazardous waste as set out in ch. NR 661, Wis. Adm. Code [PDF exit DNR]. In general, if a household waste is managed separately by a non-household member, the exemption no longer applies. One exception to this is people collecting strictly household pharmaceuticals. The DNR has issued an enforcement discretion memo to allow for the hazardous waste exclusion to apply in this situation.

Registering as a collector

Wisconsin's drug disposal law requires all collectors to register with the DNR.

Collection run by a law enforcement agency

If your collection is run by a law enforcement agency (including DOJ or DEA take-back events), the DNR is working with the DOJ to allow law enforcement agencies to register via a link on WILENET. The DOJ will inform you when the link is available.

In the meantime, register with DOJ for its Prescription Drug Take-Back Day and/or with DEA for its National Prescription Drug Take-Back Day, as appropriate.

Collection run by a pharmacy or other non-law enforcement organization

If your collection is NOT run by a law enforcement agency, please complete the registration form below.

Important restrictions on drug destruction

Do not flush collected drugs or dispose of them in a landfill. The best option is to send drugs to an out-of-state incinerator approved to accept household pharmaceutical waste.

Those collecting unused medications from the public may only destroy the drugs if they are registered as “reverse distributors” with the DEA.

Those intending to destroy pharmaceutical waste in Wisconsin must also obtain applicable permits from the DNR for solid or hazardous waste treatment, incineration, air and/or water discharges, depending on the technology they intend to use. Facilities intending to use incineration should contact the Air Management Program at 608-266-6876. Facilities intending to use waste treatment methods should contact the Waste and Materials Management Program.

U.S. Environmental Protection Agency and DNR rules prohibit the use of most burning devices to burn pharmaceuticals collected from the public. These devices may only be used for contraband drugs.

Drugs from residential and long-term care facilities and schools

Organizers of collection events may only accept drugs from households because waste disposal regulations apply to households differently from businesses and institutions. Nursing homes, residential care apartment complexes, assisted living, adult family homes hospice care providers and collection event organizers should review the following publication to ensure that only households use collection programs.

Businesses and institutions, including schools, must comply with state and federal waste management regulations for medications they manage on behalf of residents or students. Public school nurses should consult the Department of Public Instruction's guidance on the disposal of medications.

The DEA rule provides options for long-term care and other residential facilities to manage their wastes through collection receptacles managed by retail pharmacies and through mailing to destruction facilities.

Funding your collection program

Current funding options include the following.

State funding: Since May 2015, the Wisconsin DOJ has been coordinating a prescription drug disposal program in Wisconsin. The agency provided personnel and logistical support for the disposal of medications collected from the public by local law enforcement agencies. For more information, contact Danielle Long at 414-403-4437.

Wisconsin also offers grants for pharmaceutical waste collections through the Department of Agriculture, Trade and Consumer Protection Clean Sweep grant program for unwanted prescription drugs. There is no funding available through the DNR or the DOJ.

Local funding: Municipalities and local law enforcement agencies may choose to fund collections.

Private funding: Philanthropists, foundations and local businesses are possible sources of funding. For example, a hospital or pharmacy may donate a medication dropbox to a local law enforcement agency.

Additional resources for collection programs