Safe Disposal of Unwanted Medicine: 4-H Project

Sensible Disposal of Unwanted Medicines (pdf)

Prescription drug use is on the rise. When medicines expire, people often flush or throw them away. This can contaminate waterways, harming fish and other aquatic wildlife. In response to a growing national concern about improper disposal of medicine and medicine misuse, IISG educators  and 4-H curriculum specialists are working together to create an education guide for 4-H leaders and members.
This guide will provide an opportunity for youth to understand the impacts of chemicals entering our waterways. Through numerous activities, 4-H members will learn how to inform others on disposing of medications properly. In addition, youth will be helping to reduce identification theft and protect aquatic organisms. 4-H’ers will serve as important agents for change in people’s habits and actions regarding the sustainability and preservation of our environment.

Project  Goal
Youth will understand the negative impacts of improper disposal of medications and teach adults how to use proper disposal methods.


  • Youth will understand that medications flushed down the toilet can end up in our streams, rivers, and lakes and cause harm to fish and other aquatic life.
  • Youth will know how and where to properly dispose of unused and expired medicines.
  • Youth will increase their environmental stewardship knowledge and engagement.
  • Youth will share their knowledge with others – parents, siblings, and friends.

  • This educational effort will be evaluated for increased awareness, knowledge, and new practices that have been adopted.

Instructional Methods
Use the scientific method and inquiry learning techniques to ensure the following:
 1) The discussion associated with the 4-H guide will be interactive.
2)  Youth will be active learners.
3)  Youth will engage in discovery.
 4) Design activities so that retention is enhanced.
 5) Activities will be developed to meet the National Science, Engineering, and Technology (SET) mandate of increasing knowledge in these three disciplines.

Youth learn why proper disposal of unused and expired medicine is important.
Life Skills - acquiring knowledge, keeping records, making decisions, planning and organizing, solving problems, using scientific methods, and communicating.
Success Indicators - Youth can explain that pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs) are appearing in aquatic & terrestrial ecosystems and the resulting negative impacts on our natural resources and on people.

Project Guide Framework
1. What are the issues?
Outcome –Youth learn why so many medicines have been flushed and will learn about better alternatives.
Life Skills – Acquiring knowledge, communicating with others, and working in a team.
Success Indicators - Youth understand that lack of knowledge about the impacts of pharmaceuticals and personal care products has led to unsafe practices. So, while we do not “blame” people for the water quality problems we are having now, we do need to educate people to properly dispose of unused and expired medicines.

2. What should I be concerned about?
Outcome – Youth will learn what medications and personal care products are causing the most concern in our environment.
Life Skills – Making decisions about how to wisely use our natural resources.
Success Indicators - Youth correctly locate and present data on the PPCPs of most concern to water quality.

3. What are my options for creating positive change to address this issue?
Outcome - Youth learn where adults can properly dispose of unused or expired medicines in their community, and contacts where they can obtain or provide information.
Life Skills – Acquiring knowledge, communicating with others, working in a team.
Success Indicators – Evidence that local citizens are participating in community collection events and that community members are getting involved in the dissemination of this information.
Are 4-H members able to answer the following questions?

  • Does your community offer a collection event for unused and expired medications and personal care products?
  • If your community does offer a collection event, when, where, and what are the requirements?
  • If your community does not offer a collection event, what can people do with their PPCPs? Is there a possibility (interest) in starting one? What would need to happen and who would need to be involved?
  • How can I let other people know about these issues?

4. What products will be developed?
Outcome - Youth create educational displays to inform others about pharmaceuticals and personal care products (PPCPs).
Life Skills – Helping others to learn, being a responsible citizen, and developing leadership skills
Success Indicators - An educational display or poster is created and exhibited in a public setting. This final project will be evaluated for quality, number of venues, number of people who view display, anecdotal dialogue.

Youth work as team to show what they have learned about proper disposal of PPCPs and their community resources. Their informational display will address the following:
So, what’s the big deal?
What are the issues?
What should I be most concerned about?
What are my options?


Terri Hallesy
Education Coordinator

Laura Kammin
Pollution Prevention Program Specialist

Illinois-Indiana Sea Grant
Purdue University
195 Marsteller Street
West Lafayette, IN 47907-2033
University of Illinois Extensio
Sea Grant
Purdue University