UCSF Sustainability Stories

Sophia Labeko

UCSF Student Tackling Improper Medicine Disposal

Adriana Gardner, a third-year student at UCSF School of Pharmacy and a recipient of the UC President’s Bonnie Reiss Carbon Neutrality Initiative Student Fellowship, which funds student-generated projects that support the UC system’s goal to become carbon neutral by 2025, shares her passion for medicine with greening the health system and the environment, one pill at a time.

As part of her fellowship project, Gardner focused on educating UCSF Health patients on proper and safe medicine disposal. “Ideally, unused medications should be disposed of via medication take-back programs. However, in the US it is still common practice to store extra medications at home or dispose of medications in the trash or toilet, which poses a safety and environmental risk. Currently, UCSF Health doesn’t have a program to educate patients on safe medication disposal. Therefore, the goal of this project is to create various educational materials that can be used to educate UCSF patients,” explained Gardner.

The problem is that unused or expired medications are often stored unnecessarily for an extended time. This can lead to improper use or accidental ingestion by pets and children. When medications are disposed of improperly, such as in the trash or toilet, this can be environmentally harmful as it can contaminate water supplies and negatively impact the wildlife.

Gardner confronted this problem by developing a flyer that breaks down the safe medication disposal process. She has already distributed flyer prints to inpatient pharmacists and to UCSF Helen Diller Family Comprehensive Cancer Center, and plans to distribute more soon. The hope is that patients become aware of the dos and don’ts when it comes to medicine disposal. When broken down, proper medicine disposal is actually very simple–drop it in a medication disposal bin or mail it to a designated location by requesting an envelope.

As Gardner gets ready to graduate in about a year, she hopes to continue engaging in projects and research related to climate change and health.

Related pages: Safe Medication Disposal

This piece is part of the 2021-2022 People of Sustainability series, highlighting the many people of UCSF who prioritize sustainability. If you’re contributing to the sustainable future of this world, in ways big or small, let us know for a chance to be featured in our newsletter and website. Share your own story with us here.