Preparing medical waste for disposal

Best methods for disposing of bandages, medications and needles

Disposing of unwanted household chemicals and other products at a household hazardous waste collection event or facility is always the preferred option, but that option isn't available everywhere. The following information may be used to make small quantities of household wastes safer for landfill disposal.


These guidelines are only for wastes generated by households and may not be used for wastes generated, collected or confiscated by businesses, schools or government agencies. We have no liability or responsibility of any kind to any user or entity as a result of these guidelines. Using any or all of this guidance is solely at your discretion. Use this guidance only for the specific waste and purpose as presented. If you have mixtures of materials, do not use the procedures described unless you have a thorough understanding of the chemistry of the materials involved.

Household bandages and wound dressings

  1. To prevent accidental exposure, soiled bandages, wound dressings, garments and linens should be placed in securely fastened plastic trash bags.
  • Larger items should be sealed in sheet plastic with strong tape.
  • Make sure the outside of the bag or plastic wrap is free of visible contamination.
  1. Store packaged waste away from pets and children.
  2. Put the packaged waste in your regular trash on the day your trash is picked up or taken to the landfill.

Household medications and pharmaceuticals

Colorado Medication Take-Back Project

We recommend using this network of secure boxes for disposing of unused and unwanted household medications.

Do not flush medications down the toilet or drain

Flushing even small quantities of household medications can contaminate drinking water supplies.​

  1. Take the medications out of their original containers.
  2. Mix the medications with something that can't be eaten, such as used coffee grounds or cat litter, to prevent accidental or intentional misuse of medicine by children or animals.
  3. Put the mixture in a container with a tightly fitting lid or in a plastic zip-top bag or other tightly sealed plastic bag.
  4. Except for fentanyl or Duragesic pain patches, transdermal patches should be folded onto themselves so they can't be reused before being placed in the sealable container. Fentanyl or Duragesic pain patches should be folded in half, sticky side together, and flushed down the toilet. These patches are dangerous if not flushed immediately after use.
  5. Remove or destroy all identifying personal information on the empty medicine container labels, including prescription and medical plan numbers.
    • You can destroy personal information by covering the information with a black permanent marker and/or by scratching it off.
  6. Wrap the medication mixture and empty containers in newspaper or a paper bag to help conceal them, then wrap them in a trash bag.
  7. Store the packaged waste away from children and pets.
  8. Place the packaged waste in the trash on the day your garbage is collected or taken to the landfill.

Needles and sharps

Never put a container of sharps in with your recyclables

  • Sharps are not recyclable and not only can they pose an infection risk to workers at the recycling facility, they can render the whole batch of recyclables unusable.
  • Used needles and other sharps should never be placed loosely in your trash or flushed down the toilet.
  1. Purchase a commercially available sharps container from a pharmacy or other source, or use a strong plastic or metal container with a screw-on or tightly secured lid to prevent accidental contact with the waste.
    • Containers like empty bleach bottles, liquid detergent bottles and heavy plastic jugs are strong enough to prevent the sharps from poking through the container and have lids that can be securely fastened.
    • A coffee can may also be used as long as the lid is sealed with strong tape once the container is full.
    • Plastic milk containers are a poor choice because they're generally made of thin plastic that can be easily punctured by a needle or lancet.
    • Glass should never be used as a sharps container because the glass can break and make the hazard worse.
  2. Label the container as “Used Sharps” if your household is not using a commercially-available container.
  3. Once filled, the container should be firmly sealed to prevent accidental tampering.
  4. Store the sealed sharps container away from children and pets.
  5. Place the sealed sharps container in your trash on the day it gets picked up or taken to the landfill.