Understanding Non-Hazardous and Hazardous Pharmaceutical Waste

For those not familiar with the field of health and medicine, the term non-hazardous pharmaceutical waste could trick you into thinking this is not dangerous. However, it has its own negative effects on the environment. But before we go further, let us understand what pharmaceutical waste is and then the difference between hazardous pharmaceutical waste and the non-hazardous type:

Non-Hazardous and Hazardous Pharmaceutical Waste

What is Pharmaceutical Waste?

When it comes to the health and medical sector, refuse generated from such organizations cannot be disposed of the same way you would collect refuse from a fast-food joint. This is because they deal with highly toxic materials in their day-to-day activities. It can range from collected blood samples, used syringes, waste from surgeries, and so on. Visit here to learn how inadequate disposal methods could cause harm.

Luckily, the pharmaceutical field doesn’t have to worry about most of the above waste types. Those are commonly found in hospitals. Since a pharmacist is responsible for handling drugs, pharmaceutical waste is mostly made up of expired or contaminated and unused drugs.

But they could also include home and personal care products that contain specific chemicals. We are sure by now you can see how unethical it would be to simply drop this waste in a refuse bin. This is why certain measures are taken to properly dispose them. There are two types of pharmaceutical wastes, hazardous and non-hazardous. We are going to briefly look into each of them below.

Hazardous Pharmaceutical Waste

It is pretty obvious that since we are having this conversation, not all pharmaceutical waste can be moderately harmless for the environment. Therefore, waste is categorized into hazardous and non-hazardous wastes. The RCRA is responsible for dictating how we categorize them.

For waste from a pharmacy to be tagged as hazardous there will be certain properties it contains that make it extremely dangerous to humans and the environment at large. Refuse products in this category are known to be ignitable, corrosive, toxic, and reactive. For better understanding, they are categorized into P, U, K categories, we would explain them below.

1. P class drugs

Drugs that fall into this class are known to be very toxic. It could be a pharmaceutical drug chemical or pesticide and you would often find that they contain arsenic, arsenic trioxide, epinephrine, and cyanide salts.

2. U class drugs

Like the “p class drugs”, U class drugs are very toxic. It could be pharmaceutical, pesticide, or chemical. Waste in this category often contains acetone, acetyl chloride, and azaserine.

3. K class drugs

This type of waste unlike the others are not generated after production, rather they are generated during the manufacturing process.


Pharmaceutical industry can change its practices to manage pharmaceuticals in a more ecofriendly manner.

Non-Hazardous Pharmaceutical Waste

As we mentioned in our introduction, because it is called non-hazardous pharmaceutical waste, do not be deceived into thinking they aren’t dangerous if disposed improperly. So long as it has to do with toxic chemicals used in the production of drugs, it must be handled with care.

It is important to note that wastes that fall into this category are also governed by the resource conservation and recovery act (RCRA). This act creates a framework for the proper disposal of both hazardous and non-hazardous waste. However, because they’re less toxic than waste that falls into the hazardous class, they are not affected by heavy regulation. But this doesn’t mean that they can be disposed of like regular refuse from home. You still need to enlist the help of professionals for this task.

How to Properly Store and Dispose Pharmaceutical Waste?

Now that we have covered these two waste types, let us look at how you can properly dispose them. We will focus on all types of pharmaceutical waste and not just the non-hazardous type. When it comes to pharmaceutical waste disposal in general, your best bet to do things professionally if you do not already have trained personnel on-site is to employ the use of waste disposal companies. The reason we suggest using companies is that they leave no room for error.


You should also take proper storage of your pharmaceutical waste seriously. This is because it can be dangerous if it gets tampered with. Therefore, it should be at a secured site. Proper storage would also prevent leakage of waste into the environment. Consider using clinical waste bags. They are easy to distinguish from regular trash because of their very noticeable blue color.

You should opt for cytotoxic and cytostatic bags when making a choice on what waste bag to store your waste. It is also advisable to have a separate trash can in a secure location for your pharmaceutical waste.

Final Thoughts

Improper disposal of pharmaceutical waste and regular waste in general is having widespread negative effects on the environment. Most are washed into the ocean leading to deaths and depletion of marine life. It is our responsibility to ensure that these effects are not only mitigated but all together avoided.