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Safety for the Veterinary Staff

The Veterinary Safety & Health Digest


Questions & Answers

We have a couple of products that we no longer use. What’s the best way to dispose of small amounts of the “left-overs?”

The answer depends on the chemical and the amount in question.

Most chemicals in the veterinary practice are pretty mild since they are usually formulations of a small amount of “active” ingredient mixed with a larger amount of “inactive” or bulk ingredients. These mixture products, when diluted even further pose little risk to the environment or the general public. However, they must still be discarded safely.

Generally speaking there are five options for the disposal of expired or no-longer-used products in the veterinary practice:

1) Donate. If the product is not expired and is still useable, find a local animal shelter or another business that could use it instead of throwing it out.

2) Recycle. Many communities have recycling centers or hazardous waste days where individuals or small businesses can drop off unwanted or expired cleaning products and similar low hazard materials. Many of these chemical products are combined with other similar products and sent to a recycling center where they ultimately get reincorporated into new products instead of going into the landfill.

Recycling is mandated for many “heavy metal” products such as mercury or radiographic fixer solutions (X-ray processor filters separate the heavy metals from the liquid. The liquid is discarded and the filter is recycled.)

3) Transform. - some materials are hazardous in one form, but not another. For instance, latex paint is a hazard in the liquid state, but is inert when dried, so just pouring it out on a piece of cardboard or plastic and allowing it to dry makes it perfectly suited to disposal in the regular trash.

Similarly, some liquid or gas materials (like alcohol or ethylene oxide) are hazardous to people in the practice because of the concentrations, but when “evaporated” or released in a well ventilated area, become so diluted in the atmosphere, they are not considered hazardous any longer.

4) Contain and discard - some products like unused drugs or medications can’t be recycled and are not suitable for transformation, but because they are reasonably low hazard items and we’re only talking about very small quantities, they can be disposed of as regular trash.

It’s usually not a good idea to flush chemicals down the drain or toilet since most waste water treatment facilities are designed to remove organic pathogens and not chemicals. Flushing chemicals down the drain almost ensures they will ultimately wind up in the water supply.

For dry material products, contain them in sturdy trash bags and discard small quantities in the regular trash. For drugs such as tablets or capsules, put them in a plastic zip lock bag and add a small amount of water to make them start to dissolve. Seal the bag and dispose of as regular trash.

For liquid medications, put a generous amount of cat litter or absorbent towels inside of a zip lock bag and squirt (or pour) the medication in the absorbent. Dispose of the bag as regular trash.

5) Contract. If none of the other options are viable because of the product or because of a large quantity involved (more than 5 gallons of most products), then a commercial chemical waste treatment company is the answer. Search the internet or look in the telephone directory under “waste removal” for local companies.

Of course, local disposal regulations must be observed so when in doubt, contact the municipal waste management authority (this is NOT an OSHA issue) for guidance. By understanding all the options for waste chemical disposal, the practice can protect the staff, protect the environment and comply with governmental regulations.


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The information on these pages is excerpted from
The Veterinary Safety & Health Digest,
Copyright 2013 Philip J. Seibert, Jr., CVT  All Rights Reserved
No part of this publication may be reproduced for distribution without prior permission from the publisher.



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This page was last updated on 01/24/14.

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