That medicine cabinet

February 2nd, 2015 atam Posted in Earth, General | No Comments »

What do you do with your expired medicine? Let it sit in the medicine cabinet, pretending not to see it? Flush it down the toilet? Chuck it in the bin?

I thought I was doing the responsible thing when I took some expired medicine back to the hospital whose pharmacy issued it, for safe disposal. What happened next was ten minutes of confusion as one nurse mumbled about there not being a policy for taking such medicine for disposal, followed by a summons to a superior to repeat the same message.

Hospitals in Hong Kong are required to collect all medical waste for safe disposal at the chemical waste treatment facility in Tsing Yi. Surely it’s not all that difficult to set up collection boxes to take back expired medicine returned by patients for removal at the same time?

We worry about air pollution in Hong Kong because we can see the smog, but what about other kinds of pollution? We don’t want the landfills extended so more and more people have some awareness of the issue of solid waste. Wastewater came into our consciousness when it was discovered that the water in Victoria Harbour was too foul to swim in, back in the days when large-scale sewage treatment wasn’t in place.

No one, however, appears concerned about what should be a major issue, here and everywhere. Over ten years ago, tests on drinking water in the UK discovered an amount of the anti-depressant Prozac, which water treatment plants aren’t supposed to remove, sufficient to cause concern. More recent research indicated that fish exposed to human medicine display adverse behaviour. That’s from medicine we discharge after our bodies have processed it; what’s the consequence of exposing the environment to much more powerful, unprocessed medicine?

The problem worries the US Environmental Protection Agency enough for it to issue the National Hazardous Waste Management Plan in June 2014, which stated that, “Given their potential for environmental pollution, a take-back scheme for expired household medicine is needed.”

If we can set up collection boxes for compact fluorescent lamps so they can be taken back and the mercury in them safely removed, surely we can do the same for expired medicine?


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