Since the free program began in 2017 under an ordinance sponsored by Mayor Breed when she was Supervisor, the City has kept unsafe medications out of communities, outdoor spaces and water sources 


San Francisco, CA – Mayor London N. Breed today provided an update about the City’s significant progress made to collect and safely dispose of over 140,000 pounds of unused medication under the Safe Medicine Disposal Program from 2017 to 2022. The Mayor championed the ordinance in 2015, setting the way for the program’s inception. 

Sponsored by then-Supervisor Breed and passed by the Board of Supervisors in 2015, the San Francisco Safe Drug Disposal Stewardship Ordinance provides residents with free, safe, and convenient ways to dispose of their unwanted and expired medicines. Overseen by the San Francisco Environment Department (SFE), the Safe Medicine Disposal Program provides drop-off kiosk locations, mail-back envelopes, and one-day collection events funded by pharmaceutical makers that produce a range of prescription medications. 

“In championing the passage of this landmark ordinance in 2015, my aim was to address the immediate dangers posed by unused medications while promoting a culture of care and responsibility throughout our City,” said Mayor London Breed. “This is a free program that is simple and convenient for residents to participate, and the benefits are significant. It keeps prescription drugs off our streets, out of the hands of children, and out of the environment. This is remarkable to see, almost a decade later, how the program continues to offer major benefits to our City." 

Residents can safely dispose unused and expired prescriptions, as well as over-the-counter medications. San Francisco residents utilized a total of 62 collection kiosk locations, 164 mail-back envelope distribution sites, as well as one-day disposal events to safely dispose of their unused pharmaceuticals.  

“Our program tackles a vital challenge affecting communities around the world. It provides a simple and effective way to keep our water clean and our residents safe from risks of unused drugs,” said Tyrone Jue, Director of the Environment Department. “Residents can drop off unwanted medications when they go to pick up their prescriptions, and our residents with limited mobility can participate by requesting pre-paid, mail-back envelopes be sent directly to their homes. Our approach, based on the principle of extended producer responsibility, delivers concrete results and is a model for what we can achieve when we work together through the product lifecycle in the common interest of public health and environmental sustainability.” 

The safe collection and disposal of unused pharmaceuticals is an essential public safety imperative. Unused medicines can all too easily be diverted for illegal use and resale. As cities across the country grapple with the sale of illegal narcotics, this program has kept more than 140,000 pounds of medicine off the street—and out of trash bins, protecting children, pets, and wildlife who come into contact with medicines from accidental poisoning. Additional risks for children include consumption of medicines mistaken for candy, and sanitation workers that can be harmed by discarded injectors such as Epi-Pens, if thrown in the garbage.  

Due to federal DEA requirements, only pharmacies, hospitals or clinics with a pharmacy, law enforcement agencies, and narcotics treatment programs can lawfully host medicine collection kiosks. Residents in all 11 of San Francisco’s Districts can drop their expired and unwanted medicines in the collection kiosks at all San Francisco Police Stations, Zuckerberg San Francisco General Hospital’s outpatient pharmacy, Kaiser Permanente, and many retail pharmacies throughout the city including many CVS and Walgreens locations.  

“We are committed to keeping illegal drugs off our streets – including unused pharmaceuticals that can be sold on the black market,” said SFPD Chief Bill Scott. “We have provided drop-off locations at all our district stations where anyone can dispose their unwanted pharmaceuticals. Please help us keep these drugs out of the wrong hands.” 

“Keeping unneeded or expired medications is a public health risk, especially for people with children or teens at home,” said Dr. Grant Colfax, Director of Health, San Francisco Department of Public Health. “The misuse of prescription medications can lead to hospitalization or death from unintentional overdose or poisoning. Medication collection sites like those we have in San Francisco are a valuable and necessary service that helps people to prevent medications in their name from hurting someone.” 

The safe collection and disposal of unused pharmaceuticals is also an environmental imperative. Wastewater treatment plants are not designed to remove pharmaceutical chemicals, and when medicines are flushed down the toilet or poured down the drain, they can pass untreated into surrounding waterbodies and contaminate drinking water sources. When old medicines are thrown into garbage destined for landfill, they can also leach into waterbodies. 

“Baykeeper is pleased to hear that San Francisco's program to keep prescription drugs out of the waste stream—and ultimately out of the Bay—is working,” said Sejal Choksi-Chugh, Executive Director of San Francisco Baykeeper. “It's impressive that so many residents are using the disposal stations and taking action to protect our local environment in a meaningful way. The chemicals in everyday drugs for treating everything from infections to allergies can harm the health of birds, fish, and other aquatic life. An unhealthy Bay ecosystem can have negative consequences for all of us who live around the Bay. The numbers demonstrate that this program should continue to be promoted in San Francisco and across the Bay Area.” 

The program is based on the “Extended Producer Responsibility” (EPR) stewardship model, which has been successfully implemented in Europe and Canada since the 1990s. Specifically, the model ensures that manufacturers of products that are difficult or expensive to dispose of bear responsibility for the costs of both collection and disposal once products have reached the end of their useful life. All members of the product chain—producers, retailers, consumers, and governments—coordinate efforts to ensure that problematic products are managed to protect public health and safety, and the environment.  

To identify a safe disposal kiosk in your neighborhood, use San Francisco Environment (SFE) Department’s locator map. Postage paid mail-back envelopes can be picked up at designated locations identified on the locator map, and they can also be sent directly to your home by calling 1 (844) 633-7765 or filling out the online request form. SFE presented its fourth biennial report on the San Francisco Safe Drug Disposal Stewardship Ordinance to the Board of Supervisors this month, highlighting the program’s outstanding community benefits. The full text of the 2024 Biennial Report to the Board of Supervisors is available at sfenvironment.org.   


Contact information

Mayor’s Press Office, mayorspressoffice@sfgov.org