San Francisco has a Household Hazardous Waste program to provide residents with convenient options to dispose of household hazardous waste and other unwanted materials that do not belong in the three-cart collection system.

The program includes:

  • A permanent household hazardous waste drop-off facility
  • A by-appointment home collection service
  • Curbside collection of household batteries
  • Over 150 retail partner drop-off sites for used needles and certain lower hazard waste products from households

One unwanted material that lacked adequate disposal options is home-generated medicines. In 2010, the San Francisco Board of Supervisors first considered a local ordinance that would require medicine producers to fully-fund and operate a collection and disposal system for unwanted medicines. The ordinance was based on an extended producer responsibility model.

San Francisco Safe Medicine Disposal Pilot Program

In 2010, the pharmaceutical industry challenged the City to prove that pharmacies would be willing to collect unwanted post-consumer medicines and that residents would use the collection locations. The Pharmaceutical Research and Manufacturers Association (PhRMA) contributed a total of $225,000 and Genentech contributed $10,000 to help the Department of the Environment design and implement a Pilot Program. The Pilot Program (PDF) launched in April 2012 and established collection bins for non-controlled substance medicines at 12 independent San Francisco pharmacies and one community center. All 10 San Francisco police stations accepted both controlled and non-controlled substance medicines, which the SFPD handled according to their standard procedures for evidence. The Pilot ultimately ran through June 2017 and collected over 88,000 lbs. of unwanted medicine.

Safe Drug Disposal Information Ordinance

In 2011, the Board of Supervisors passed a separate ordinance called the Safe Drug Disposal Information Ordinance (PDF). This ordinance supported the goals of the Pilot Program by requiring all San Francisco pharmacies that did not collect unwanted medicines as part of the Pilot Program to advertise the 13 locations that did. This ordinance remains in effect and continues to apply to San Francisco pharmacies in parallel with the Safe Drug Disposal Stewardship Ordinance.

Safe Drug Disposal Information Ordinance Materials: Poster (PDF), Tearpad (PDF)

In-Home Medicine Disposal Products Review

Community Environmental Health Strategies (CEHS) evaluated ten in-home medicine disposal products based on information available from each manufacturer's website, research and promotional materials, and product labels as of February 2019. The report, Medicine Disposal Products: an overview of products & performance questions, March 2019 (PDF) was prepared for the Department of the Environment. The March 2019 report is an update of CEHS’ earlier review dated April 2017 and titled Overview of Eight Medicine Disposal Products.

Medicine Waste Characterization Study

The 2013 Medicine Waste Characterization Study (PDF) evaluated the types of medicines disposed of through the San Francisco Safe Medicine Disposal Pilot Program during its first year of operation. The Teleosis Institute analyzed and described in detail a sample of medicine aggregated from all 23 Pilot Program collection locations. 

Safe Drug Disposal Stewardship Ordinance, Ordinance #31-15

In October 2014, following the 9th Circuit Court of Appeals decision in PhRMA, et al. v. Alameda County, then President of the San Francisco Board of Supervisors, David Chiu, introduced the Safe Drug Disposal Stewardship Ordinance (PDF) to require medicine manufacturers to provide a permanent and sustainably funded program for San Francisco residents to dispose of their unwanted medicines. This Ordinance was passed unanimously by the Board of Supervisors in March 2015 and was signed by Mayor Ed Lee on March 26, 2015.


Additional Resources

How to Safely Get Rid of Unwanted Medicine (Residents) 
Safe Drug Disposal Stewardship Ordinance Implementation 
Safe Drug Disposal Stewardship Ordinance Requirements for Producers and Wholesalers 
Product Stewardship Institute Pharmaceuticals Stewardship Webpage 
California Product Stewardship Council Pharmaceutical Stewardship Webpage