NCPA - National Center for Policy Analysis

Drug Take-Back Mandate Would Do Little for the Environment

March 1, 2012

Proponents of proposals to force collection of unused pharmaceuticals claim such mandates are needed to protect ground water quality.  However, such take-back policies rely upon incomplete scientific studies and preclude viable policy alternatives that would be more effective at improving water quality, says Paul Guppy, vice president for research at the Washington Policy Center.

First, the studies and assumptions that take-back advocates rely upon are faulty.  They fail to answer fundamental questions, ignore plausible explanations and disregard contrary published findings.

  • Scientists have not verified that the trace levels of unused or discarded drugs found in natural streams and water sources are caused by improper disposal.
  • In addition, there is no evidence the presence of part-per-trillion levels of trace elements poses a threat to human health and safety or to wildlife.
  • No findings have been published that assure that such a policy would significantly improve environmental outcomes.
  • Take-back policies would inherently increase costs to consumers for pharmaceutical drugs.

Second, advocates of these take-back policies have chosen to ignore scientific findings that have already been published on the topic, possibly because these findings are generally unfavorable to the implementation of take-back policies.

  • These policies have not been found to reduce the aforementioned trace levels -- this is because, as U.S. Food and Drug Administration environmental assessment expert Raanan Bloom points out, these chemicals enter water sources because of natural human excretion and not through improper disposal.
  • A study by the Department of Ecology and the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency has found advanced wastewater treatment to be a more effective means of improving water quality.
  • Sending these drugs to protected landfills also poses a viable alternative to take-back programs.

Source: Paul Guppy, "Proposals to Impose Drug Take-back Mandate Would Increase Health Care Costs and Do Little for the Environment," Washington Policy Center, February 2012.

For text:


Browse more articles on Environment Issues