Local Policy Brief: Safe Medicine Disposal

The California Grocers Association has developed the policy brief below so our members can better understand local government policy issues and the grocery industry’s position. This background information is intended provide an introduction and outline of preferred outcomes.  These briefs are general in nature and not specific to any one jurisdiction. As local governments consider ordinances related to these issues CGA local government staff will tailor the conversation to the specific proposal. Please contact CGA local government staff if you have any questions, would like additional information or you become aware of a local jurisdiction discussing or considering regulating on this issue.

Despite an increase in the number of prescribed medications, there are still limited options for the general public to dispose the leftover unused medications that lead consumers to trash, flush or store medicines at home.  This poses serious health and environmental risks as communities experience increases in drug abuse, accidental ingestion of medication, and drugs enter the water supply.

As local governments struggle with budgetary issues and the absence of state legislation, they have begun implementing safe drug disposal laws through local ordinances that shift the burden of waste diversion from the local jurisdiction to the drug manufacturers. In 2012, Alameda County introduced an Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) ordinance that specifically held pharmaceutical companies responsible for funding a Product Stewardship Program for the safe collection and disposal of unused medications. The ordinance set a precedent as the first in the nation to stand to legal challenges by the pharmaceutical industry all the way to the U.S. Supreme Court.

Since the passage of the Alameda County ordinance, other jurisdictions have begun to introduce similar ordinances. The City/County of San Francisco, San Mateo County, Santa Clara County and Marin County have all approved ordinances, Los Angeles County and Santa Barbara County are in the process of introducing legislation, and San Luis Obispo County is the only jurisdiction to mandate retail pharmacies to collect pharmaceutical controlled substances.

CGA is concerned with mandates that require in-store retail pharmacies to implement take-back collection programs. These ordinances create opportunities for public health hazards by placing food at risk of contamination with pharmaceutical products and maintaining take-back receptacles secure pose additional safety concerns.  Also, the issue of consistency is critical to business operations since it is extremely important that our members have the ability to operate under the same law in as many locations as possible. Lastly, there are significant costs associated with EPR ordinances. For these reasons, CGA supports an Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) model where drug producers and manufacturers assume financial responsibility for the waste management of their products.