Pharmaceutical Pills: Trent University Student Reminds us They Don’t Belong in Our Waters or Landfill!


Who knew that your medicine cabinet could have detrimental effects on our environment???

3 years ago, Alyssa moved from Brampton Ontario to Peterborough to start her Trent University undergraduate degree in Environmental and Media Studies.

One weekend she was cleaning out her drawers (purging!!) and she stumbled upon a few bottles of unused antibiotics pills.

Alyssa wondered to herself what to do with the pills…

And she wondered why there wasn’t more education about how to properly dispose of these pharmaceutical products.

“Food…cans…plastic. These are common types of waste that people know how to deal with, but when it comes to pharmaceuticals, most people just don’t really think about it. People accumulate vitamins, expired medicine, antibiotics, birth control products, and generic Advil and Tylenol and over the years, our drawers become filled with them. It made me wonder how many people just chuck it in the garbage”.

This sparked her research idea!


As part of the waste management course at Trent University, students are required to select a specific type of waste to research.

Students design a research project to identify waste management problems and search for potential solutions.

Alyssa conducted her research by conducting a random sample survey using social media.

She also interviewed various organizations, like the Health Product Stewardship Association and Waste Management Peterborough throughout the school semester.

Through her results, she concluded that many people just don’t know how to properly dispose of their old pharmaceuticals.

According to her research study, many people improperly dispose of drugs by:

  • Throwing them in the trash
  • Pouring them down the kitchen sink; or
  • Flushing them down the toilet.

This is definitely not #green!!

Antibiotics, antidepressants, anti-inflammatories, oral contraceptives and birth control hormones can escape into our environment through septic tanks, sewers and household trash.

In general, sewage water treatment plants are not designed to filter these types of medicines.

This means they can end up in surface waters, lakes, rivers, seep into groundwater, soil, …And even worse, our drinking water!


“One thing that really struck me while conducting this research was when I read an academic article that said that people can literally be drinking drugs other people take… It was really eye opening”.

Through her research, Alyssa found that there are plenty of negative and unwanted environmental effects of drugs in our environment. In addition,  environmental toxicologists, such as Trent University’s  Professor Dr. Chris Metcalfe, have also been studying the traces of various excreted drugs like acetaminophen, hormones, and steroids in the Great Lakes.

Dr. Metcalfe is one of the world’s experts in detecting pharmaceuticals in our water – and he estimates a rise of between 10-15 percent of pharmaceuticals being consumed by aging baby booomers. He expects the problem of drugs in our lakes will continue to worsen.

Because pharmaceuticals are designed to be biologically active, they can easily disrupt marine ecosystems, become ingested by wildlife, and may cause unknown problems, like new types of bacteria and pathogens.

Alyssa encourages people to become educated about what they have in their medicine cabinets and to ensure that they dispose of pharmaceuticals properly by returning them to local pharmacies.

Where does my unused medication go-.jpg

She also recommended that doctors and pharmacists take a larger responsibility to educate the public about where to take their old pharmaceuticals.

Here in Peterborough, you can take your medication back to a variety of locations and you can search by postal code by visiting:

Alyssa also recommended that environmentally friendly drugs should be designed, as well.

Alyssa describes her Trent University experience:

“Through my hands on experience with surveying the public, and contacting organizations, I felt self-fulfilled and more confident about real-world experience. I realized the freedom that Professor Jackson gave us was a huge part of developing not only my academic experience as a student, but also as a person in the community.  Being at Trent University offers students the unique opportunities to go out there and make a lasting difference in society, whether it be for the environment, our career, and for the future of our community’s growth.”


Thank you Alyssa for your research project and for helping get the message across about proper ways to dispose of pharmaceutical waste!



1 thought on “Pharmaceutical Pills: Trent University Student Reminds us They Don’t Belong in Our Waters or Landfill!

  1. Jasmine Ouellette February 1, 2017 — 3:26 am

    Interesting points! Environmentally friendly alternatives (in some cases) might be herbal supplements & vitamins from your local health food store, rather than pharmaceuticals. Healthier for the environment, and everyone taking them!


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