• Pharmaceuticals;
  • Unused medicines;
  • Landfills;
  • Landfill leachate;
  • POTW discharges;
  • Surface water discharges


The pharmaceutical industry is conducting research to evaluate the pathways and fate of active pharmaceutical ingredients from the consumer to surface waters. One potential pathway identified by the researchers is the disposal of unused pharmaceutical products that are discarded by consumers in household trash and disposed of in municipal solid waste landfills. This study was designed to evaluate relative amounts of surface water exposures through the landfill disposal pathway compared to patient use and flushing of unused medicine pathways. The estimated releases to surface water of 24 example active pharmaceutical ingredients (APIs) in landfill leachate were calculated for 3 assumed disposal scenarios: 5%, 10%, and 15% of the total annual quantity of API sold is discarded and unused. The estimated releases from landfills to surface waters, after treatment of the leachate, were compared to the total amount of each example API that would be released to surface waters from publicly owned treatment works, generated by patient use and excretion. This study indicates that the disposal of unused medications in municipal solid waste landfills effectively eliminates the unused medicine contribution of APIs to surface waters; greater than 99.9% of APIs disposed of in a landfill are permanently retained. Integr Environ Assess Manag 2013; 9: 142–154. © 2012 SETAC