Sea Grant's Return Unwanted Medicines & Personal Care Products Education

According to an investigation in 2008 by the Associated Press, pharmaceuticals can be found in the drinking water supplies of at least 41 million Americans. The study also indicated that antibiotics, mood stabilizers, and sex hormones are among the drugs found in the drinking water supplies of at least 24 major metropolitan areas in the U.S.

“Drugs and other synthetic chemicals are increasingly found in surface and groundwater sources, and can contaminate drinking water supplies and disrupt natural ecosystem processes," says New York Sea Grant Coastal Education Specialist Helen Domske.

Another environmental threat to the Great Lakes is very, very small. Tiny plastic beads used in hundreds of toiletries like facial scrubs and toothpastes are slipping through water treatment plants and turning up by the tens of millions in the Great Lakes. More on these "microplastics" via

As for the history of Sea Grant's efforts related to proper disposal of unwanted medicines and personal care products, in April 2009, NYSG was part of a collaborative "Return Unwanted Medicines" take-back event on Long Island (click here). And, in Fall 2010, New York joined other Great Lakes Sea Grant programs in Pennsylvania, Ohio, and Illinois and Indiana for a "Dose of Reality" education campaign targeted to keep chemicals out of our waterways (click here).

Resources for Returning Unwanted Medicines/Personal Care Products:


  • Fact Sheet: Undo the Environmental Chemical Brew (New York Sea Grant) (pdf)
    Keep Unwanted Medications & Chemicals Out of the Great Lakes

  • Dose of Reality Publication - Remedies to keep everyday chemicals out of waterways (Great Lakes Sea Grant Network) (pdf)

  • How to hold a successful pharmaceutical take-back event without outside funding (August 2009) (pdf)

  • "Don't Flush Pharmaceuticals" Educational Poster (Letter Size) (pdf)

  • Sensible Disposal of Unwanted Medicines (pdf, 1.7 MB; 52 pp.)
    A curriculum developed to help youth understand: (1) Why chemicals from medicines are found in the environment; (2) The harm these chemicals can cause; and (3) What can be done about it

  • The Medicine Chest (pdf, 15.4 MB, 257 pp.)
    A collection of safe disposal curriculum activities and service-learning resources

  • Disposal of Unwanted Medicines (pdf, 15.8 MB, 255 pp.)
    A resource for action in your community

Web Sites:

  • U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration's National Takeback Initiative (click here)

  • U.S. Food and Drug Administration's Disposal of Unused Medicines: What You Should Know (click here)

  • NYS Department of Environmental Conservation's "Household Drug Collection Schedule" Web Site (click here)

  • NYS Department of Environmental Conservation's "Proper Disposal of Household Prescriptions and Over-the-counter Drugs" Web Site (click here)

  • NYS Department of Health: Medication Dropboxes by County (click here)

  • Disposal of Unwanted Medicines: A Resource for Action in Your Community (Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant) (click here)

  • Safe Disposal of Unwanted Medicine (Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant) (click here)


  • Why Take Drugs Back on April 29? New York Sea Grant Guide has Answers (April 2017) More>

  • Help Protect New York's Waterways on Drug Take Back Day (October 2016) More>

  • Sea Grant Reminds You to "Take Back" Your Unwanted Medicines (April 2016) More>

  • Sea Grant Brings "A Dose of Reality" to USDEA's National Prescription Drug Take-Back Days (May 2014) More>
    Since the inception of the Great Lakes Sea Grant Network's "Dose of Reality" campaign,  more than 2 million pills have been collected at drug drop-off events in the five states. The National Take Back Days have removed a combined 3.4 million pounds of medication from circulation. The primary reason for collection days and education on proper disposal is because unwanted prescription drugs can pollute local waterways, posing a threat to public health, wildlife, and our natural environment.

  • NYSG Specialists and Sea Grant Network Campaigns Lauded for Their Successes (December 2013) More>
    From a Visionary Career Leadership Award to Two Top 100 Great Lakes Restoration Initiative Success Stories, New York Sea Grant specialists were acknowledged this year for their work in maintaining seafood safety standards and keeping pharmaceuticals, personal care products and invasive species out of New York's waterways.

  • Fact Sheet: Lake Erie (Summer 2013) More>
    This four-page fact sheet addresses invasive species, harmful algal blooms and other concerns for the shallowest, but one of the most productive Great Lakes in the system.

  • NYSG Urging Take Back Day Participation to Help Keep Drugs Out of Great Lakes (April 2013) More>
    Learn more on how easy it is to properly dispose of unwanted and unused medicines, including veterinary drugs, to help keep pharmaceuticals out of New York's waterways, including the Great Lakes.

  • NYSG's Extension Specialists Honored for Excellence in 2012 (April 2013) More>
    Last Fall, two of New York Sea Grant's own were honored for excellence by the Great Lakes Sea Grant Extension Network. These acknowledged efforts added to that of a handful of other NYSG specialists who received their own recognitions within the year.

  • New York Sea Grant to Assist Four Great Lakes Restoration Initiatives (November 2012) More>

  • NY Great Lakes Coastal Educators Honored for Excellence (October 2012) More>

  • September 29th National Take Back Day: You Can Help Keep Drugs Out of Great Lakes (September 2012) More>

  • Just throw out your unwanted medicines? Great Lakes Sea Grant programs weigh in (June 2012) More>

  • NYSG urging April 28, 2012 take-back participation to keep drugs out of Great Lakes (April 2012) More>

  • University at Buffalo: Faculty Experts Q&A: NYSG Coastal Youth Educator on Keeping Pharmaceuticals out of Waterways (April 2012) More>

  • Dose of Reality Campaign (New York Coastlines, Winter 2012) More>
    NYSG's coastal education specialist has been working with other specialists throughout Sea Grant’s Great Lakes programs for the past year on this education-based the campaign funded by the Great Lakes Restoration Initiative.

  • Dose of Reality: Sea Grant Educates on Unwanted Meds (New York Coastlines, Spring 2011) More>

  • "Estrogenic Compounds in Urban Waterways" (Coastlines, Spr/Sum '09) (pdf)

  • New Yorkers, Don't Flush Your Drugs (Fall '08) (pdf)

  • "Improving the Health and Balance of New York’s Waters" (Coastlines, Spr '02) (pdf)
    [includes information on research on Estrogenic Compounds in Urban Waterways]

Other Related Media:

  • Your News Now: Improper Disposal of Pharmaceuticals Can Cause Serious Harm (May 2011)  (click here)

  • NOAA Sea Grant: NYSG and Other Sea Grant Programs Ranked in NOAA's State of Sea Grant Report (January 2011) (click here)

  • NOAA's Coastal Services Magazine: Pharmaceuticals in the Environment - Coastal Managers Are Discovering How to Respond (January/ February 2010) (click here)

  • Cornell University: "Keeping Pharmaceuticals Out of the Water: Activities Around New York State" (Spr/Sum '09) (click here)

  • TompkinsWeekly: "Medicines Pose Problems for Environment" (August 03, 2009) (click here)

Home *  What is NYSG? *  Research *  Extension *  Education *  News & Events *  Publications *  Grants & Policies *  Staff *  NYSG Sites
Focus Areas *  Related Sites *  Site Map

Problems viewing our Site? Questions About our Site's Social Media / Other Features? - See Our Web Guidelines

For NYSG Staff ... SharePoint * Site Administration