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July 31, 2012 > Drug makers to bear disposal costs

Drug makers to bear disposal costs

Submitted By Kamika Dunlap

The Alameda County Board of Supervisors passed a new policy, the first in the country, requiring drug companies to pay for collection and disposal of left-over drugs they manufacture. The unanimous vote on July 24, 2012, positions the County as a national leader for its producer-responsibility approach to the problem of what residents should do with their unused and expired medications.

"I'm proud that we've found a more sustainable policy solution that promotes good will and corporate social responsibility," said Supervisor Nate Miley, President of the Alameda County Board of Supervisors. "The community's growing demand for more permanent and convenient medication disposal sites goes far beyond what the County can fund and operate on its own."

Alameda County has 28 med-collection sites that dispose of discarded medications at a cost of $40,000 per year. The sites are operated by 10 different agencies and labor is donated by many participating agencies such as East Bay Municipal Utility District, Union Sanitary District and the City of San Leandro. Of the annual $186M in profits generated by drug companies in Alameda County, officials say the projected cost of a comprehensive program producer-funded program would be about one cent for every $33 of pharmaceuticals sold in the County.

Alameda County has become the first local government in the country to enact a policy mandating pharmaceutical companies design, operate and fund a collection program. The effort has attracted wide support from a variety of Bay Area cities and agencies and across the country struggling with the same issue.

Scarcity of medication collection sites has led residents to stockpile drugs in their homes, throw medications in the trash or flush them down the toilet. Such actions have public health, safety and environmental risks.

The Safe Drug Disposal Ordinance is based on an Extended Producer Responsibility (EPR) policy framework, adopted by CalRecycle in 2008, which places primary responsibility on minimizing the environmental, health and public safety impact on whoever produces a product.

According to Alameda County Household Hazardous Waste Programs about 1.5 million of the County's residents have as much as 681 tons of unwanted drugs stockpiled in medicine cabinets. Poisoning is also the fastest rising cause of accidental death among older adults in the County, particularly from prescription and illicit drugs.

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