Prevent Pollution: Don't Flush Your Meds!

[Updated April 2014] Each Spring and Fall, you can safely dispose of expired and otherwise unwanted prescription and over-the-counter drugs by dropping them off at the lobby of the Princeton Police Department from 10 am to 2 pm as part of Operation Take-Back NJ.

Bottles of unused prescription drug in a green sieve

Although our police coordinate this event to help prevent drug abuse and accidental ingestion by children, proper drug disposal helps prevent pollution of our water.  Sure, flushing is easy, but flushed meds get into our streams, foods, animals, and drinking water. Unfortunately, most water treatment systems are not designed for pharmaceuticals and other man-made contaminants. These synthetic substances can be difficult and expensive to monitor and clean-up.  Preventing pollution is much easier and more effective than regulating it or cleaning it up!

In densely-populated New Jersey, we live and flush close to our water sources. Pharmaceuticals and other man-made contaminants have been documented in New Jersey’s water. Most of the research occurred almost a decade ago using sophisticated methods that are not readily available, so the current extent of contamination is not well documented and media attention has drifted away from water quality issues.

Pharmaceuticals are of particular concern because they are designed to be active in our bodies.  Additional organic compounds get into water from storm-water runoff, leaching from land-fills, personal products like soaps and detergents, drugs that people and animals excrete, and other sources.

Some further actions you can take beyond proper disposal of meds and chemicals:

  • Learn more about the issue and support groups that work for clean water.  In our community, the Stony Brook-Millstone Watershed Association focuses on conservation, advocacy, science and education for clean water.
  • Ask your elected representatives to support water pollution research, as well as the the development and implementation of water treatments that can remove significant amounts of contaminants from the water.  Ignorance does not protect your health and we cannot effectively manage what we don’t measure.
  • Continue to properly dispose of unused medications.  If you missed this Operation Take-Back NJ, there may be another take-back day next year.  Meanwhile ask your pharmacy if they take back drugs - for example, CVS has announced a recycling program for a low fee.
  • Stick with tap water. Bottled water is not necessarily safer and plastic bottles are energy-intensive to produce and recycle.

Further details of the April 26, 2014 drug disposal collection in Princeton.