Aug 21, 2014 at 09:16 AM

Home Generated Pharmaceutical and Sharps Waste. What You Need to Know.

By St. Francis Pet Clinic

The issue of home-generated pharmaceutical and sharps waste has remained a recurring focus of the California Legislature in recent years.  

In 2008, in an attempt to protect the public, a law took effect to make discardiing home-generated sharps into the garbage or recycling illegal. The law further implemented measures to store sharps in approved containers and dispose of them at designated collection centers.  In 2009, a law also passed mandating state agencies to implement collection and disposal programs for home-generated pharmaceutical waste, in an attempt to avoid environmental contamination.

What is "home-generated" waste and how does it differ from "medical waste" generated in a veterinary practice? 

Veterinarians should delineate between home-generated waste and medical waste produced in their own practice, as their obligations in relation to each differ.

Home-Generated Pharmaceutical Waste:  When a medical professional prescribes medication and sends it home with a client, there is a chance that not all of the medication will be used for one reason or another, and thus will remain in the clients possession.  This excess medication (which can often be expired) is termed "home-generated" pharmaceutical waste.  

Home Generated Sharps Waste:  Similarly, if a client is sent home with needles (used to manage diabetes or renal failure for instance), used needles become "home-generated" sharps waste.  Home-generated waste disposal is the responsibility of the client, according to state law.

Medical Waste:  refers to pharmaceutical, bio hazardous (animal tissue), or sharps waste created by the veterinary practice or by a veterinarian in a ranch setting.  Disposal of medical waste is usually handled through veterinary distributors or sharps collection and disposal companies.  Laws and regulations exist specifically for licensees in relation to the disposal of each type of medical waste.  Generally, veterinary practices are considered "small quantity generators" for medical waste, meaning that they produce less than 200 pounds of medical waste per month.  For instance, non-controlled drug pharmaceutical waste (such as extra medication or expired drugs) must be deposited into a container labeled "PHARMACEUTICAL WASTE - INCINERATION ONLY".  It may be stored onsite in a sealed container for up to one year if its total weight is less than 10 pounds.  More than 10 pounds of pharmaceutical waste must be removed from the practice within 90 days.  A practice may also keep a full, sealed sharps container on site for up to 30 days before it is transferred to the proper disposer.  Such containers need to be labeled "SHARPS WASTE - BIOHAZARD".  These laws only pertain to veterinary practices.  Home-generated sharps rules are different.  While the California law changes in 2008 and 2009 implemented home-generated disposal requirements, they did not require veterinarians to take back medications or sharps from clients.

What is the veterinarian's obligation in relation to home-generated sharps and pharmaceutical waste?

Veterinary practices are not obligated-nor authorized- to take back home-generated pharmaceutical waste or sharps waste, even if they dispensed them originally.  In fact, regulations pervent veterinarians from taking back home-generated sharps and pharmaceutical waste without special licensing by the state.

Where should I take my home-generated pharmaceutical or sharps waste?

The California Department of Resources Recycling and Recovery (CalRecycle) has created an interactive website in which a visitor may search in their locale to find nearby designated sharps and/or pharmaceutical waste depository sites.  The website: is easy and provides a map along with a list of designated locations on a county-by-county basis.  If you enter your county of residence into the search criteria and come up empty handed, it may be useful to search in neighboring counties.  

For more information on home-generated pharmaceutical waste, visit

By: Grant Miller, DVM

CVMA Director of Regulatory Affairs

Posted in Animal Health.

138 W. Ortega St.
Santa Barbara, CA 93101
Mon-Fri 8:00AM-6:00PM