FAQs

About RUM and Expired Medicines

RUM is a shortened description for Return Unwanted Medicines, a not-for-profit Company. The RUM Project is funded by the Commonwealth Government through the Department of Health and has been formed to facilitate the collection and disposal of unwanted medicines from the community. The project operates nationally with the cooperation of the pharmaceutical wholesalers and of course, all the community pharmacies as well.

These are medicines either purchased by you or your family or prescribed by a doctor and are no longer required. “Out of date” medicines should also be returned for disposal. (Consumers should always check the Expiry Date on medicines). It is dangerous to assume that previously used medicines are suitable for new ailments. You should always consult a pharmacist or doctor before taking medicines prescribed for another condition. It is preferable to discard (return) medicines no longer for immediate use. “Out of date” medicines are potentially dangerous. Chemical changes to some medicines after their use-by date  may result in unwanted side effects. Out of date medicines should be returned for disposal.

Evidence over many years confirms that medicines “stored” in the home can be the source of poisonings of children, and the source of confusion with aged patients. Accident and Emergency departments of major hospitals report alarming rates of poisonings of children due to household poisons (one in four admissions). Aged patients are often confused by the variety of medicines previously prescribed and then superseded by subsequent medicines. Medicines, and chemicals in general, can contaminate the environment when discarded via landfill sites and sewerage facilities. The collection and disposal of unwanted medicines is consistent with the “Quality use of Medicines” philosophy included in the National Medicines Policy.

Expiry dates exist on most medicine packaging, including prescription, over-the-counter and herbal / complementary supplements. Sometimes expiry dates may be located underneath labels, on the lid of bottles, or at the end of cream tubes. If you can’t find the expiry date, ask your pharmacist and they might be able to help.

There are many factors that contribute to the potency of medicines including active ingredients, presence of preservatives, temperature fluctuations, light, humidity, and other storage conditions. Best practice is to return any expired medicines to your pharmacy for safe disposal.

The expiration date is the last day that the manufacturer guarantees the full potency and safety of a medicine. Expired medicines may be less effective or hazardous due to a change in chemical composition or a decrease in strength. Stick to the rule that if your medicine has expired, don’t use it – it’s not worth the risk.

Storing expired or medicines you no longer need in the house can be dangerous for numerous reasons. They may get into the wrong hands (e.g. young children or pets) and cause harm or poisoning, cause confusion to someone who is taking multiple medicines, or they may no longer be effective.

Contrary to popular belief, the bathroom medicine cabinet is not the ideal place to store medications due to heat and humidity. Nor is the kitchen cupboard, above or next to the cooktop or fridge. Medicines are best stored in dry, cool spaces away from light, and of course out of reach of children and pets.

Take all expired and unwanted medicines to your local pharmacy for disposal. Encourage family, friends and neighbours to also return unwanted medicines to their local pharmacy.

Returning your Medicine

Prescription medicines, over-the-counter medicines, herbal or complementary supplements, gels, liquids, or topical creams can be returned to community pharmacy to be disposed of in the RUM bin. Any medicines that you might have had for your pets can also be returned to the pharmacy to be disposed in the RUM bin. Sharps or needles cannot be put in RUM bins. Talk to your pharmacist about the appropriate way to dispose of these items.

There is no definitive list kept by the RUM Project of all participating pharmacies. It is safe to assume that all pharmacies are involved in the RUM Project.

Yes. Once you return your medicines to the pharmacy, they are always placed in the RUM bin which is stored in a secure area of the pharmacy, that is always supervised by a pharmacist. Once it is full it is then incinerated by an Environment Protection Authority (EPA) accredited facility. Just as you trust a pharmacist with your personal information when you fill scripts, you can trust your pharmacist to protect your privacy when you dispose of your medicines.

But if you are still concerned about your privacy, remove your medicines from the original packaging (on which the label is attached) and return just the medicines to the pharmacy for disposal in the RUM bin.

No. Sharps should all be placed in an appropriate sharps container and returned to the correct disposal point – your pharmacist may be able to assist you in locating this.

There is a widely distributed network of community pharmacies throughout Australia and most people have a pharmacy less than 10 minutes away from their home, so the convenience of the pharmacy is important. Pharmacies are open long hours as well, making it simple and easy for people to return any unwanted medicines to a nearby pharmacy at a time when it suits them. And of course, pharmacists are the “medication managers” in the community. There is no charge to return any unwanted medicines.

In the unlikely event that the pharmacy is not able to take your unwanted medicines, please call the RUM office on 1300 650 835 for assistance.

No. All packaging (boxes, inserts) should be disposed of separately, as it is preferable for RUM bins to contain less waste and only the unwanted medicines for disposal. Note that you do not need to take the tablets out of the foil strips.

No. Sample medicines provided to GPs must be disposed of by the surgery using an EPA accredited high temperature incineration contractor.

Palliative care medicines used in the home can be returned to a community pharmacy for disposal in the RUM bin.

No. RUM bins are only able to be provided to community pharmacies – not hospital pharmacies, or any other healthcare provider.

Medicines can be taken to any pharmacy for disposal. It is not necessary to return them to the pharmacy from which they were originally purchased.

Specific Medicine Disposal

Empty inhalers are safely disposed of in your normal rubbish collection but any inhaler that still contains some of the active ingredient, should be taken to the pharmacy to be put in the RUM bin. 

Penthrox inhalers can be disposed of in the RUM bin.

Placebo inhalers do not need to be put into the RUM bin – the plastic inhaler/ mouthpiece can be recycled using the household recycling bin. The aerosol cannister, as it does not contain any active ingredient, can be placed into the household rubbish.

Yes. Liquid Pharmacotherapy doses (i.e. Methadone takeaway doses) can be poured into the RUM bin but an absorbent substrate (i.e. kitty litter or sawdust) must be first placed in the RUM bin to render the Schedule 8 poison unfit for human consumption. The destruction of these doses must be recorded in the usual manner for any other Schedule 8 medicine. It remains the responsibility of all pharmacists to ensure that they comply with their jurisdiction’s requirements for the disposal of Schedule 8 medicines.

Insulin pens and vials can be placed in the RUM bin. All packaging must be removed before putting into the RUM bin. RUM has been advised by Diabetes Australia that empty insulin pens can be placed safely in the household’s general waste.

Yes, but only if they are unused. Epipens, Clexane, Fluvax  syringes that have not been used can be put into the RUM bin. Any unused injections can be placed into the RUM bin but once used they are sharps and need to be disposed of using a sharps bin.

Any paracetamol and codeine combination medicines are safe to be put into the RUM bin.

Yes it is allowable for OxyContin (and any other opiate medicine) to be put into the RUM bin but  pharmacists need to be aware of their jurisdictional regulations for the disposal of Schedule 8 medicines. They will generally need to be denatured, so unfit for human consumption and the destruction is required to be recorded. For further information, pharmacists can refer Pharmacist Protocol for their state.

Used or unused Duodopa cassettes can be placed into the RUM bin but unwanted tubing or pumps should not. The best method of disposal would possibly be a sharps bin.

Unused IV fluids can be disposed of in a RUM bin but not cytotoxic containing preparations – these must be disposed of in a cytotoxic bin ( best to return them to the site of supply).

No. These items would generally not be put into a RUM bin – a sharps container would be more appropriate.

Glass ampoules can be placed into a RUM bin – even if broken.

Glyceryl trinitrate spray (Nitrolingual) can be placed into a RUM bin for appropriate disposal.

Small quantities of expired galenicals can be placed into a RUM bin. This excludes any items that require special handling – e.g., arsenic, strychnine, mercury. Please call the RUM office on 1300 650 835 for further assistance if required.

Any vaccines that have been heat affected due to power outage can be placed in the RUM bin – all packaging must be removed prior to disposal.

Any complementary medicines can be placed in the RUM bin. This includes herbal, homeopathic, vitamin and mineral products.

Veterinary medicines that are no longer required for domestic animals can be placed in the RUM bin.

An empty dose administration aid can be placed into your normal rubbish as it no longer contains any medicines but if there are still medicines in the pack then it should be returned to your pharmacy for disposal in the RUM bin.

Non-drug Disposal

These products should be safely disposed of in the household rubbish.

This varies in jurisdictions – State Health Department, local Councils maybe the point of supply and return.

There are drug denaturing kits available (www.drugwaste.com.au) for purchase through most of the wholesalers. Once the denaturing is  process completed the sealed container can be placed in the RUM bin.

Plastic and foils used in the packaging of medicines can be placed in the RUM bin if they contain any tablets/capsules, otherwise the normal household rubbish can be used.

Unwanted x-rays are not to be placed in the RUM bin. They can be recycled and Planet Ark has information about the services available at https://recyclingnearyou.com.au/xray/.

Cosmetics are usually not considered medicines, so are not to be placed in a RUM bin. They should be placed in the normal household rubbish for disposal.

For Community Pharmacists

Pharmacists need to remember that the Pharmacy Board of Australia Guidelines for the dispensing of medicines specially state – Pharmacist owners or managers are encouraged to arrange to accept for safe disposal of unwanted medicines from the public through their pharmacy’s participation in available programs, such as the Return of Unwanted Medicines (RUM) project. Refer to FAQ 15 for further information.

No. Each jurisdiction has slightly different requirements, so it is the responsibility of  the pharmacist to refer to their state regulations to ensure they are compliant.

In disaster situations, RUM bins are always available for use for safe disposal of damaged medicines.

Once a RUM bin is sealed it is not possible to re-open it.

Processing the RUM Bins

The World Health Organisation (WHO) has strongly recommended that the recycling of returned medicines be ceased, for the following reasons:

The “integrity” of previously distributed medicines cannot be assured. Strict controls are in place to regulate the manufacture and storage of medicines in the manufacturer, wholesaler and pharmacy environments. Frequent reports of adulterated medicines have reached the media. We should not apply double standards – if we are not to use the medicines, neither should another country.

The recipient country often has no knowledge of medicines available in the “sending” country. Brand names differ, and most often the medicines sent are of no use in the circumstances existing in the receiving country.

Black Market operations in third world countries are often very active. The interception of drug deliveries is common.

The preferred WHO protocol for medicinal aid is:

A medical person (doctor, pharmacist or nurse) with authority in the need country prepares a list of specific medicinal requirements.

The list includes delivery address requirements, and names of responsible recipients for the medicines.

The list is provided to an official Aid organisation in Australia who contact manufacturers and wholesalers direct. The contact seeks donations of required medicines from manufacturers, or at least a heavily discount priced contribution. (Manufacturers in Australia are very generous in this regard).

The required medicines are collected, collated, and delivered to the country in need, and to the specific authority requesting the medicines.

NOTE: Access the full description of the WHO Guidelines and all the Australian guidelines for drug donations to developing countries.

Community pharmacies collect these medicines at no cost to consumers. The Commonwealth Government through the Department of Health, has provided funding until 30 June 2022. The cost of the manufacture of the RUM bins, transport costs, storage of full bins prior to incineration, actual incineration costs, and the management of these arrangements are funded by the Government.

Returned medicines are disposed of by high temperature incineration. The Environmental Protection Authority (EPA) has approved this process.

In EPA approved incinerators across Australia.

None of the returned medicines are recycled or reused by the pharmacy at any time. This is prevented by the best practice procedures and in some jurisdictions by legislation.

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