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
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
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
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
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