The Korea Herald
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How should we dispose of

old medicines?

Written by Hwang Dong-hee
(Photo: 123rf)
The Korea Herald

About 85 percent of people living in Seoul are aware of the environmental issues concerning unused and expired pharmaceuticals, according to a survey conducted by the Seoul Institute.

(Source: The Seoul Institute)

** The survey was conducted among 1,000 adults

living in Seoul through Oct. 29 to Nov. 5, 2021.

(Photo: 123rf)
The Korea Herald

Only 22.9 percent said they “actively used”

the designated drug take-back sites.

About 27.3 percent said they “occasionally used” the sites.

“I knew that you can drop off the expired medicines at some pharmacies … But it’s just too awkward to hand over a few pills.”

-A woman surnamed Park, 20s, Seoul

(Photo: Yonhap)
The Korea Herald

Instead, about 24.7 percent to 46.5 percent of respondents said they threw the drugs away as general waste.

For liquid medicines in particular, about 16.1 percent flushed them away or poured them down the sink.

(Photo: 123rf)
The reasons cited for such low figures were:
42.8% - Designated sites were too far away
35.5% - Felt uncomfortable dropping them
off at pharmacies or health centers
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“When people throw away pharmaceutical waste unattended, it flows into the land or rivers.

With current technology the level may be low, but then, people are still exposed to contaminated water -- chronically and unnecessarily.”

“The impact of pharma

-ceuticals in rivers is still largely unknown … But it is already well established that pharmaceuticals threaten the environment by directly affecting the living organisms.

And humans are, eventually and ultimately, affected by this.

Choi Kyung-ho,
professor, Seoul National University
(Photo: The Seoul Metropolitan Government)
(Photo by Hwang Dong-hee)
The Korea Herald

Han River placed 43rd among 137 rivers worldwide for the cumulative concentration of pharmaceutical pollutants, according to a University of York study published in February 2022.

Traces of 23 drugs were found among the 61 pharmaceuticals the study monitored.

The contaminant with the highest average concentration was Metformin, an ingredient for diabetes medicines. Metformin levels found were not serious enough to warrant immediate concern, Choi said.

Other drug substances found:

- Gabapentin, treating partial seizures, nerve pain

- Caffeine, a stimulant in coffee

- Sitagliptin, medication for treating diabetes

- Cotinine, a product formed after nicotine enters the body

(Photo: 123rf)
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Seoul has installed 522 new designated drop-off boxes at public facilities, such as community centers and health centers, from December to January this year.

Exact locations can be found at or
(Photo by Hwang Dong-hee)
The Korea Herald

“The city is also promoting ‘drug take-back day’

in multiunit houses and apartments, so people can easily throw away the drugs on a monthly basis.

About 148 multiplex houses are participating right now. We are in the process of expanding the project,” a Seoul city government official said.

The total collected amount of monthly pharmaceutical waste in Seoul increased from 7.47 metric tons in 2021 to about

10 tons in January-April in 2022, according

to the Seoul Metropolitan Government.

(Photo: The Seoul Metropolitan Government)
The Korea Herald