Can prescription bottles be recycled?

Medicines / Medicines

Central statement

Medicines, including drops and juices, must not be used in the toilet or the sink. B. protected from children, stored and disposed of.

Other terms / synonyms

Old medication, old medication, medication waste, medication according to the German Medicines Act (AMG), human medication, veterinary medication
Waste within the meaning of the Recycling Management Act is all substances or objects that their owner discards, wants to discard or has to discard.
Waste classified as hazardous is assumed to have one or more of the so-called hazardous properties listed in Annex III of the Waste Directive. The types of waste in the European Waste Catalog whose waste codes are marked with an asterisk (*) are dangerous (Recycling Management Act, Waste Catalog Ordinance).


Medication that has become obsolete, has become unusable or is no longer required occurs in private households, but also in pharmacies, medical practices, homes and other health service facilities. Remnants of veterinary drugs can be stored in veterinary practices and with animal owners, such as farms, commercial animal quarters or animal shelters.


Medicines are offered in solid, semi-solid, liquid or aerosol form, for example as capsules, tablets and globules, creams, gels, juices and drops, sprays, active substance plasters or as suppositories. In addition to mainly organic active ingredients, they contain inorganic and organic carriers, colors, fillers, flavorings and preservatives as well as binders and antioxidants.
Medicines are usually packaged in primary packaging (glass vials, blisters, tubes, atomizers, etc.) and an outer carton (a cardboard box). Instructions for use contain information on the ingredients, storage and disposal. If necessary, application and dosage aids are included with the drugs.

According to the European waste catalog, cytotoxic and cytostatic drugs have a hazardous waste code, other drugs have a non-hazardous code. Since pharmaceuticals cure, alleviate or prevent diseases, one would also expect that the majority of these agents do not have any hazardous properties relevant for the waste classification. According to the information from the Federal Environment Agency (UBA 2015), an environmental risk assessment is carried out when new human and veterinary medicinal products are approved. As it goes on there, medicines do not belong in the waters or even in our drinking water. The entry should be reduced as much as possible. See also LfU 2020.

Cytotoxic and cytostatic drugs are generally used in the hospital. They get into private households because they are fetched from the pharmacy for outpatient treatment in the hospital and stored in the household until then, or because they are preparations made for home use. Other special drugs such as higher-dose hormone preparations or z. B. Vaccines could also be classified as hazardous waste in individual cases. A cytostatic is shown as such on the packaging. The statement "The medicinal product must not be disposed of via wastewater or household waste" in the leaflet indicates hazardous (problematic) waste. Incidentally, only the manufacturer and z. B. pharmacies are referred, which can make statements on the basis of the concentration of the ingredients and the effect about dangerous properties and the waste classification of a drug. GHS pictograms or the orange hazard symbols previously used (StMUV 2014), e.g. B. in the case of unused wound plaster sprays to be disposed of, are an indication of hazardous waste.
Narcotics that are prescribed with a special narcotic prescription are a special case of drugs. The Narcotics Act applies to them.

Statistical data

In various studies and publications from the last 20 years there have been reports of not inconsiderable amounts of pharmaceuticals that are disposed of in wastewater. In studies from 2001 that examined the disposal route via pharmacies, it was estimated that around every 20th pack is returned to the pharmacy and the value of all partially or unused human medicines runs into the billions (UBA, Schröder 2005).
According to series 19 series 1 (see publications) of the Federal Statistical Office, a total of 17,400 tonnes of waste with the AVV codes 18 01 08 *, 18 01 09, 20 01 31 * and 20 01 32 reached waste disposal facilities. This, however, would not include the quantities disposed of via the residual waste bin and the quantities disposed of together with waste from the AVV code 18 01 04, as they would then not be shown separately.


According to various publications (including UBA 2005), there is potential for reducing the amount of waste and the content of harmful substances in human medicinal products

  • a further improvement in the range of suitable packaging sizes,
  • the development of environmentally friendly active ingredients and the ecological evaluation of approved drugs,
  • cautious prescription behavior and good advice,
  • a change in patient expectations as well
  • the patient's acceptance and implementation of the mutually agreed therapy.

"Pharmacists Without Borders" provides information on the pros and cons of drug donations.


Old medication is usually seen as waste to be disposed of. There are special recycling systems for overlaid or partially emptied spray cans to be disposed of. Paper, cardboard and the rest of the emptied packaging should be recycled through the collection systems set up in the municipalities or through disposal companies (municipal waste advice, waste disposal (specialist) companies: e.g. specialist company register).

Disposal of normal household quantities

Liquid medication must also not be poured into the wastewater (sink, toilet). They continue to pollute the sewage treatment plants and the fractions that are not retained there on the rivers and bodies of water.
Old drugs in glass bottles, tubes, blisters, etc. should be disposed of via the municipal problem waste collection facility, via pharmacies that are ready for acceptance or the residual waste bin.

Disposal as problem waste or via pharmacies is appropriate if special medication such as cytostatics, special hormone preparations or vaccines arise as waste or if there is corresponding information in the instructions for use. Unused spray cans with larger propellant gas residues (see info sheet on problem waste) should be disposed of via the problem waste collection facility. As a precaution, this is also recommended for all old medications that arise in the districts of Bad Tölz-Wolfratshausen and Weilheim-Schongau, because the residual waste there is treated in a mechanical-biological treatment plant. In all other cases and when the residual waste is disposed of via a waste incineration plant, old drugs can be disposed of in the residual waste bin. What the municipal waste advisory service specifies can, for. B. can be researched via the Bavarian waste guide.

Children and other people have less access to old drugs if they are collected in plastic bags, then closed by knotting and stored in a safe place up to the z. B. mobile problem waste collection can be stored or placed directly in the residual waste bag. This also applies to the cannulas and syringes discussed below.
In households, syringes and needles without integrated needle protection should be collected in commercially available syringe or needle containers to protect against injury, or alternatively in thick-walled detergent bottles etc. (attach hazard warning, store in a safe place). Patients with viral hepatitis or other diseases listed on page 7 of the notification 18 of the Federal / State Working Group on Waste (LAGA M 18) should refer to the information in Appendix 1 of the information sheet Waste from medical facilities and Observe private care (see there "Disposal of normal household quantities"). You should collect the used syringes and needles in the syringe and needle boxes that are available in stores that can be closed tightly.

Waste from the use of medication that is also contaminated with body fluids (bandages, applicator, cannula, etc.) belongs in the residual waste bin. Syringes and needles should be packed (see above).

Packaging waste and other wastes from the use of medicines
Only empty blisters and other clean packaging (primary packaging) belong in the yellow bin, the yellow sack or the recycling system in the municipality, glass in the waste glass collection, etc. Cardboard boxes and package inserts should be disposed of in the paper bin or the recycling center.

Packaging with smaller drug residues can be emptied. B. dripped into (if possible used) absorbent paper napkins and tablets are pressed from the blister into the garbage bag (be careful with children).

Disposal of larger or commercial quantities

For the classification and disposal of waste from health service facilities, notification 18 of the Federal / State Working Group on Waste (LAGA M 18) is to be used as an enforcement aid. There you will find information on pointed or sharp objects (syringes, needles) and medicines. For waste classification see "Legal Brief Information".

When disposing of waste, you must comply with the transfer obligations (see "Brief legal information"). The disposal of batches of uniform medicinal products e.g. B. X-ray contrast media containing halogens must be clarified on a case-by-case basis. Disposers can z. B. can be found via the specialist company register.

Special case of narcotics

According to § 16 Narcotics Act (BtMG), no longer marketable (e.g. narcotics that are no longer required for the patient or that have expired) are to be destroyed in the presence of two witnesses in a way that excludes recovery of the narcotics and protects people and the environment from harmful effects ensures. Small amounts of narcotics in tablet form or capsules can be destroyed by private individuals by taking them out of the packaging, crushing them and z. B. further dissolve in a small amount of hot water. The solution obtained as well as liquid anesthetics are to be put into absorbent material such as cellulose, not into the waste water. Anesthetic plasters should be cut into the smallest possible pieces for destruction. The narcotics destroyed in this way and the resulting waste can usually be mixed with the residual waste or disposed of as old medication.
In principle, private individuals should also document the destruction process (informally, storage for 3 years). According to § 4 Paragraph 1 No. 1 BtMG, drug residues can alternatively also be taken back from pharmacies; however, they are not obliged to do so. The regulations for the documented destruction of narcotics also apply to old people's and nursing homes and hospices.
Other methods of destruction, especially in the case of larger quantities from the non-private sector, should be clarified with the Federal Opium Agency and disposal with the plant operator. This is basically based on the classification of the waste and other legal requirements (especially the obligation to release). The disposal facility must be approved for the waste.

Brief legal information

Waste classification, records and registers, municipal statutes

The classification of waste as hazardous or non-hazardous is regulated by Section 48 of the Recycling Management Act (KrWG) and the Waste Catalog Ordinance (AVV). Section 3 (2) AVV refers, among other things, to number 2 of the introduction to the waste list (Annex to the AVV) and to Appendix III "Hazardous properties of waste" of the European Waste Directive. These are properties such as acutely toxic and ecotoxic, irritant or carcinogenic.

There are two waste codes for old drugs in chapters 18 and 20 of the waste list, one for hazardous and the other for non-hazardous waste (see "Applicable AVV waste codes"). The keys to dangerous cytotoxic or cytostatic drugs are, for example, also for drugs with steroid hormones (see TRGS 905), antivirals (TRGS 525) or z. B. concentrated alcoholic extracts can be used in larger quantities. GHS pictograms or orange hazard symbols indicate hazardous waste (StMUV 2016, 2014). When classifying waste, the information on the classification of waste in Bavaria must be taken into account (IZU).

For hazardous waste, waste producers (pharmacies, clinics, medical practices, homes, etc.), waste transporters and waste disposal companies provide evidence of waste legislation. Exceptions exist e.g. B. for small quantity producers according to § 2 Paragraph 2 Verification Ordinance (NachwV). A small-volume producer is a waste producer who does not produce more than a total of 2 tons of hazardous waste annually at all locations within Germany. Regardless of the obligation to provide evidence, waste producers keep registers for hazardous waste (Section 49 (1), (2) and (3) and Section 50 (1) of the KrWG, Section 2 (2) of the NachwV, LAGA notification 27). This does not apply to private households.

The disposal of waste and fees in the municipalities are regulated by statutes. Whether and under what condition the pharmacies are allowed to dispose of pharmaceutical waste that the citizen has given away free of charge, e.g. B. to dispose of problematic waste collection is to be clarified with the municipal waste disposal authority (district, independent city, waste disposal association). Commercial, in particular hazardous, waste from pharmacies that is to be kept separate is to be disposed of at a charge.

Lease obligations

The transfer obligations to the municipalities are regulated in the KrWG, the details in the municipal statutes. According to the Bavarian Waste Management Act and the Bavarian Waste Management Plan, hazardous waste to be disposed of (special waste) and waste to be disposed of separately must be made available to GSB Sonderabfall-Entsorgung Bayern GmbH.

Possible AVV waste codes

AVV group 16 05: for gases in pressure vessels
16 05 04 * gases in pressure containers (including halons) containing dangerous substances (if necessary for batches of non-hazardous animal and human medicinal products in spray cans with propellants classified as dangerous such as propane / butane)
16 05 05 gases in pressure containers with the exception of those that come under 16 05 04 (e.g. for fractions of non-hazardous, still partially filled aerosol cans and gas containers)
AVV group 18 01: for waste from the health service
18 01 03 * wastes whose collection and disposal are subject to special requirements from an infection preventive point of view (for vaccines classified as infectious)
18 01 04 Waste whose collection and disposal are not subject to any special requirements in order to prevent infection (e.g. bandages and plaster of paris, linen, disposable clothing, diapers) (e.g. for plasters and bandages)
18 01 08 * cytotoxic and cytostatic drugs
18 01 09 medicinal products other than those mentioned in 18 01 08
AVV group 18 02: for waste from research, diagnosis or treatment facilities for animals
18 02 02 * Waste whose collection and disposal are subject to special requirements from an infection prevention point of view (for example, see 18 01 03 *)
18 02 03 wastes whose collection and disposal are not subject to any special requirements from an infection preventive point of view (for example, see 18 01 04)
18 02 07 * cytotoxic and cytostatic drugs
18 02 08 medicines other than those mentioned in 18 02 07
AVV group 20 01: Separately collected fractions (for waste from commercial and other non-private sources that is comparable to household waste)
20 01 31 * cytotoxic and cytostatic drugs
20 01 32 medicinal products other than those mentioned in 20 01 31
The waste codes for packaging or other waste can be found in the Annex to the Waste Catalog Ordinance (AVV). The waste codes with * are hazardous waste (Section 3 (1) AVV). The additions in italics are examples of the use of AVV waste codes.

Rules and regulations

Law to promote the circular economy and ensure environmentally compatible waste management (Recycling Law - KrWG) of February 24, 2012 (Federal Law Gazette I p. 212), amended by Article 1 of the law of March 27, 2017 (Federal Law Gazette.I p. 567) has been changed

Implementation aid for the disposal of waste from health service facilities or notification 18 of the Federal / State Working Group on Waste (LAGA M 18), as of January 2015; introduced for implementation in Bavaria with a letter from the Bavarian Ministry of the Environment dated May 20, 2015, Gz. 79d-U8740.27-1999 / 2-31

Ordinance on the European Waste Catalog (Waste Catalog Ordinance - AVV) of December 10, 2001 (Federal Law Gazette I, p. 3379), which was last amended by Article 2 of the Ordinance of July 17, 2017 (Federal Law Gazette I, p. 2644)

Original and consolidated versions of Directive 2008/98 / EC of November 19, 2008 on waste and the repeal of certain directives of November 19, 2008, also known as the Waste Framework Directive

Ordinance on the verification of waste disposal (Verification Ordinance - NachwV) of October 20, 2006 (Federal Law Gazette I p. 2298), last amended by Article 11, Paragraph 11 of the Act of July 18, 2017 (Federal Law Gazette I, p. 2745) has been

Law on the Avoidance, Recovery and Other Management of Waste in Bavaria (Bavarian Waste Management Act - BayAbfG) of August 9, 1996 (GVBl p. 396), which was last amended by Art. 11a (5) of the law of December 10, 2019 (GVBl. S . 686) has been changed

Ordinance on the Bavarian Waste Management Plan (AbfPV) of December 17, 2014 (GVBl p. 578)

Technical rule for hazardous substances (TRGS) 905: List of carcinogenic, mutagenic or toxic to reproduction substances, March 2016 edition (GMBl 2016 p. 378), last amended and supplemented: GMBl 2020, p. 201 [No. 9-10] from March 13, 2020

Technical rule for hazardous substances (TRGS) 525: Hazardous substances in medical care facilities, September 2014 edition (GMBl 2014, p. 1294)

The legal provisions listed here or in the text can be found in the Environmental Management Info Center under Law / Execution or, if necessary, with explanations in the Bavarian Waste Guide (e.g. on the KrWG).

Further reading, publications, information

BMU Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety: Don't give nature the rest, dispose of medicines properly. - Online information, Berlin.

BMU Federal Ministry for the Environment, Nature Conservation and Nuclear Safety: Don't give nature the rest - brochure

UBA Umweltbundesamt (2017, 2015): Dispose of old medicines correctly, pharmaceuticals. - Explanatory film, online information, Dessau-Roßlau.

LGL Bavarian State Office for Health and Food Safety (2020): Medicines. -
Online information, Erlangen.

StMUV Bavarian State Ministry for the Environment and Consumer Protection (2016): Hazardous waste. - Data, facts, goals: 12 p., Munich.

StMUV (2014): The new (e) n symbols for your safety - information on the new chemical labeling. - Brochure: 36 p., Munich.

Schröder, H. (2005): How Much Medicines Do People Need? Pharmaceutical Consumption in Germany. - In: Umweltbundesamt (Ed.): Medicines in the environment - ask the Umweltbundesamt about risks and side effects. - Texts 29/05: p. 249, Dessau-Roßlau.

LfU Bavarian State Office for the Environment (2020): FAQ Medicines. - Online information, Augsburg.

info sheet "Medicines / Medicines"

The publication series "infoBlatt" by the Bavarian State Office for the Environment gives valuable tips on the treatment of individual types of waste.

This website is an excerpt from the info sheet "Medicines / Medicines", which you can download here as a free PDF document. The PDF version also contains all sources.

info sheet "Medicines / Medicines" - PDF