San Francisco Department of the Environment

Safe Medicine Disposal Policy and Resources

Why the Safe Drug Disposal Stewardship Ordinance?

San Francisco has a Household Hazardous Waste program to provide residents with convenient options to dispose of household hazardous waste and other unwanted materials that do not belong in the three-cart collection system.

The program includes:

  • A permanent household hazardous waste drop-off facility
  • A by-appointment home collection service
  • Curbside collection of household batteries
  • Over 150 retail partner drop-off sites for used needles and certain lower hazard waste products from households

One unwanted material that lacked adequate disposal options is home-generated medicines. In 2010, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors first considered a local ordinance that would require medicine producers to fully-fund and operate a collection and disposal system for unwanted medicines. The ordinance was based on an extended producer responsibility model.

San Francisco Safe Medicine Disposal Pilot Program

In 2010, the pharmaceutical industry challenged the City to prove that pharmacies would be willing to collect unwanted post-consumer medicines and that residents would use the collection locations. The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers Association (PhRMA) contributed a total of $225,000 and Genentech contributed $10,000 to help the Department of the Environment design and implement a Pilot Program. The Pilot Program (PDF) launched in April 2012 and established collection bins for non-controlled substance medicines at 12 independent San Francisco pharmacies and one community center. All 10 San Francisco police stations accepted both controlled and non-controlled substance medicines, which the SFPD handled according to their standard procedures for evidence. The Pilot ultimately ran through June 2017 and collected over 88,000 lbs. of unwanted medicine.

Safe Drug Disposal Information Ordinance

In 2011, the Board of Supervisors passed a separate ordinance called the Safe Drug Disposal Information Ordinance (PDF). This ordinance supported the goals of the Pilot Program by requiring all San Francisco pharmacies that did not collect unwanted medicines as part of the Pilot Program to advertise the 13 locations that did. This ordinance remains in effect and continues to apply to San Francisco pharmacies in parallel with the Safe Drug Disposal Stewardship Ordinance.

Safe Drug Disposal Information Ordinance Materials: Poster (PDF), Tearpad (PDF)

In-Home Medicine Disposal Products Review

Community Environmental Health Strategies (CEHS) evaluated ten in-home medicine disposal products based on information available from each manufacturer's website, research and promotional materials, and product labels as of February 2019. The report, Medicine Disposal Products: an overview of products & performance questions, March 2019 (PDF) was prepared for the Department of the Environment. The March 2019 report is an update of CEHS’ earlier review dated April 2017 and titled Overview of Eight Medicine Disposal Products.

Medicine Waste Characterization Study

The 2013 Medicine Waste Characterization Study (PDF) evaluated the types of medicines disposed of through the San Francisco Safe Medicine Disposal Pilot Program during its first year of operation. The Teleosis Institute analyzed and described in detail a sample of medicine aggregated from all 23 Pilot Program collection locations. 

Safe Medicine Disposal Stakeholder Meetings

The Department of the Environment coordinated five stakeholder meetings between 2010 and 2014. The topics ranged from Pilot Program design to the results of the Medicine Waste Characterization Study.

An additional stakeholder meeting was organized by then Supervisor London Breed’s office in January 2015 to discuss the draft Safe Drug Disposal Stewardship Ordinance, which was introduced in October 2014.

Safe Drug Disposal Stakeholder Meeting Handouts: April 2011 (PDF), August 2011 (PDF), June 2012 (PDF), October 2012 (PDF), September 2013 (PDF).

Safe Drug Disposal Stewardship Ordinance, Ordinance #31-15

In October 2014, following the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decision in PhRMA, et al. v. Alameda County, then President of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, David Chiu, introduced the Safe Drug Disposal Stewardship Ordinance (PDF) to require medicine manufacturers to provide a permanent and sustainably funded program for San Francisco residents to dispose of their unwanted medicines. This Ordinance was passed unanimously by the Board of Supervisors in March 2015 and was signed by Mayor Ed Lee on March 26, 2015.

Director’s Presentation to Board of Supervisors Committee on Government Audit and Oversight

When the proposed Ordinance was being considered, Director of the Department of the Environment, Debbie Raphael, made a presentation on the history, need, and design of the proposed ordinance at the Government Audit and Oversight Committee’s February 26, 2015 meeting.

Safe Drug Disposal Stewardship Ordinance Implementation

A Safe Drug Disposal Stewardship Ordinance webpage is available for entities that need to comply with the Ordinance. The webpage includes the latest information on Ordinance implementation. 


Additional Resources

SFPUC General Manager Order (PDF)
Regulations for Safe Drug Disposal Stewardship Ordinanace (PDF)
San Francisco Medicine Waste Characterization Study 2013 (PDF)
Information for Wholesalers, Producers, Retailers, and Repackagers
Product Stewardship Institute Safe Drug Disposal Portal
California Product Stewardship Council Pharmaceutical Stewardship Webpage



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