By Jody Steinberg

Have you checked your medicine cabinet lately for expired drugs? Do you know what to do with those outdated prescription and over-the-counter medications?

Marist School junior John Burns hopes you don’t flush them down the toilet.

Burns started the Marist Pharmaceutical Take Back Program, scheduled 10 a.m.- 2 p.m. Dec. 12, which promotes the safe and environmentally friendly disposal of the drugs

Burns conceived the program while researching a paper on the impact of pharmaceuticals on the environment. He realized that the commonly-held belief that we should trash or flush our excess medicines is flawed.

“Many of the drugs we put into the environment have harmful effects, and there are better ways to dispose of it than flushing down the toilet,” said Burns, who hopes the Take Bake program will be a dry run for what will become his Eagle Scout project. “Water ecosystems are particularly affected from drugs in the water system, which can disrupt spawning patterns and cause hermaphroditic frogs.”

While Burns and medical waste handlers like James Barnett of Biotech, Inc. warn that medicines in the sewage systems and landfills contaminate our water and soil, the federal government is still undecided about their impact on the waste stream.

The Food and Drug Administration and the Environmental Protection Agency have encouraged citizens to take advantage of take-back programs, even though neither agency has a formal policy against sending drugs down the toilet or into the landfills – yet.

The Pharmaceutical Take Back Program is part of Marist’s year-long Terra Project, designed to raise awareness of global environmental issues at the local level. Each month, the school adopts a new project designed to promote sustainable practices, reduce consumption and conserve natural resources.

Since April, Marist has cut energy and water usage, expanded recycling, reduced paper usage and waste, harvested a bountiful vegetable garden and increased donations to hunger programs. In addition to the ongoing environmental benefits, the Terra Program has reduced operating expenses at Marist, a welcome benefit in a tight economy.

Four, three-gallon medical waste collection bins from Biotech, a medical waste disposal company that works with small-volume medical waste generators, including occasional collections such as Marist’s Take Back event. One bin contains cat litter to absorb all liquid medicines, the others take pills, bubble packs and other medications. The bottles are recycled, while the medications are sterilized in a medical waste autoclave using pressurized steam, and then disposed of according to state and federal regulations, according to Barnett.

Burns hopes to raise awareness of the environmental benefits of Take Back programs and discourage people from tossing and flushing unwanted drugs. “Somehow, it’s going to make it back to you,” he warns.