San Francisco Environment Department

With Drug Overdoses on the Rise Nationally, San Francisco Launches Industry-Funded Safe Disposal Program for Unused Medicines

Board of Supervisors President London Breed speaks about the legislation she authored to create an industry-funded safe medicine disposal program in San Francisco. 

San Francisco, CA -- Today, Board of Supervisors President London Breed and officials from San Francisco’s Department of Environment and Department of Public Health announced the launch of a new program to make it easier for residents to dispose of their unused, expired, or unwanted medicines. The program, operated by MED-Project, is entirely funded by the pharmaceutical industry and provides convenient, safe disposal opportunities at 21 retail pharmacy locations as well as 11 Police and Sheriff’s facilities throughout San Francisco.

“Today, we’re making it easier for San Francisco residents to get unwanted medicines out of medicine cabinets, out of the landfill, and out of our beautiful Bay,” said Board of Supervisors President London Breed, standing in front of one of the new disposal kiosks installed near the pharmacy at Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital. “We first piloted a medicine disposal program like this in 2012 and collected over 44 tons of unused medicines, demonstrating a real need for this kind of service. Thanks to MED-Project’s partnership, we have not only made this program permanent but expanded it to more neighborhoods in San Francisco.”

The newly launched program is the result of a San Francisco ordinance sponsored by President London Breed that passed in 2015 requiring pharmaceutical manufacturers to pay for the end of-life disposal of their products in San Francisco. The ordinance was modeled after Alameda County’s groundbreaking ordinance that was upheld by federal courts in 2015.  A total of eight counties in California now have similar ordinances.

Since 2015, MED-Project, a non-profit organization established by the pharmaceutical industry, has worked to install medicine collection kiosks at pharmacy locations like Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital, Kaiser Permanente outpatient pharmacies, and  neighborhood retail pharmacies. Walgreens also launched its own medicine collection program in 2016 and placed kiosks in five of its 64 San Francisco locations.

“There are both environmental and public health costs associated with unused medicine. But until now, the City has been left with the responsibility of managing and paying for those impacts,” said Debbie Raphael, Director of the San Francisco Department of Environment. “The program we are launching today is the result of the pharmaceutical industry stepping up and partnering with the City to provide convenient, environmentally safe disposal options for their products.”

Department of Environment Director Debbie Raphael deposits unused medicine into a collection kiosk. 

Unused medicine is a threat to both public health and the environment. Over the counter and prescription medicines can pollute the environment when flushed down the toilet or disposed in the black bin and landfilled.

Since 2003, more drug overdoses have occurred annually from prescription medicines than from cocaine and heroin combined. According to the Center for Disease Control, prescription drug abuse is the fastest growing drug problem in the United States. Accidental poisonings from medicines in the home are also a concern especially for young children, seniors and pets.

“Unused medicines stored in the home can put the health and safety of our families and community at risk,” said Dave Woods, Chief Pharmacist at the San Francisco Department of Public Health. “With drug overdoses on the rise nationally, we must take steps locally to prevent unnecessary poisonings and deaths from medicines left at home. The safest and easiest way to dispose of your unwanted medicines is by bringing them to a participating pharmacy near you. It might even be the same pharmacy where you picked up your prescription.”

Participating collection locations accept both unused or expired prescription and over-the-counter medicines in their original containers or a sealed plastic zipper bag.  MED-Project also provides special preaddressed and pre-stamped envelopes by mail to those who are homebound or have limited mobility.

The program is expected to expand to another 23 locations in the coming years with at least five kiosks located in each of the 11 Supervisorial districts.  Until those locations open, MED-Project is providing mail-back envelopes to the public at several San Francisco Public Libraries.

For a current list of participating drop-off and mail-back envelope distribution locations visit:

To request a special disposal envelope by mail visit: or call 1-(844)-MED-PROJ

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Updated: 10/19/2017 

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