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 Do you know what to do with those outdated prescription and over-the-counter medications?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, held on Dec. 12, which promoted the safe and environmentally friendly disposal of the drugs. He hopes the collection is a dry run for what becomes his Eagle Scout project. He wants 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.

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,” he said. “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 was 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.