Alameda County, California recently adopted a groundbreaking approach to  pharmaceutical waste management that has the potential to impact Colorado and other states throughout the country. The California County ordinance mandates Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) that makes the proper disposal of pharmaceutical waste the shared responsibility of producers and consumers as well as government. Under this law, pharmaceutical manufacturers will be accountable for proper collection and safe disposal of unused pharmaceutical waste. Similar policies are already in place in parts of Mexico, Canada and Europe. However, this ordinance is the first of its kind in the U.S.

The policy was met with resistance with a legal case filed, alleging the new law was a violation of the Constitution’s provisions on interstate commerce.

The U.S. Supreme Court opted not to hear the case, upholding the decision of the Ninth Circuit Federal Court of Appeals, which found that Alameda County’s ordinance was lawful. The victory allows other counties to move forward with this new policy, which encourages counties throughout the country to adopt similar laws. Supporters of the ordinance were pleased with the Supreme Court’s decision not to hear the case, stating that denial reaffirmed state and local government’s power to act on issues not handled at the federal level.

The new policy will have a significant impact on how pharmaceutical waste collection and disposal is funded. Prior to adoption of the ordinance, all costs were the responsibility of government, and manufacturers were not liable.  The new policy of shared responsibility stresses the importance of collaboration which will ultimately result in the county residents having an increased number of convenient options to safely dispose of their pharmaceutical waste.

It is anticipated that this ordinance will encourage other counties in California and the U.S. to adopt similar policies.  Following the Supreme Court’s decision, Alameda, San Francisco and San Mateo Counties will begin enforcing the ordinance. Santa Clara County is in the process of finalizing its own ordinance and Santa Barbara is looking into similar action.

As the number of California counties adopting these policies continues to grow, it is important for other states in the U.S. to be conscious of the positive implications of collaboration and shared responsibility. The Alameda County ordinance sets the standard for pharmaceutical collection and disposal around the country. Colorado Medical Waste will participate in Colorado’s Medication Take Back Program Stakeholder’s Group.  The new committee is poised to build a statewide program for proper collection and safe disposal of unused household medications.  With support from the Governor, state legislature, individuals and organizations, collaboration has begun with the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment managing the group to provide this important community service. The ultimate goal will result in a sustainable program where Colorado residents have convenient methods to safely dispose of their pharmaceutical waste to reduce drug abuse, to keep them from being disposed into waterways that pose a serious threat to public health, our drinking water, wildlife and the environment.

Are Changes in Store for Pharmaceutical Waste Disposal?