Your health & local services

Medicines waste

Medicines waste refers to medicines that are requested on prescription, but then not used.

In Bristol and nationally, for every £25 spent on prescription medication, £1 is wasted. A recent investigation revealed that in Bristol alone an estimated £5.7 million is spent on unused medication every year and £300 million is spent nationally.

The NHS pays for every medicine it dispenses, there is no such thing as a free prescription. If they are no longer needed by the patient, the NHS also pays for the medicines to be disposed of.  Unused medicines cannot be recycled or used for other patients – they have to be destroyed.

Every penny we spend on wasted medicines is money we are not able to spend on other NHS treatments and services.


A medicine can only work if it is taken - if you do not take your medicines as prescribed, you may become unwell and even need additional treatments.

It is important to always take your medicines exactly as instructed. If you have any questions or concerns about your medicines,  tell your doctor or pharmacist as they will be able to help you.

"Medicines waste can quite literally mean money down the drain and is enormously costly in both financial and environmental terms. We are working hard to ensure that NHS systems are reviewed and updated to minimise waste wherever possible and are asking the public to help us."

- Dr Martin Jones, Chair of Bristol Clinical Commissioning Group

We need your help

Reducing medicines waste is a key priority for us at Bristol Clinical Commissioning Group, but we cannot do this alone. We need your help to stop medicines waste in Bristol and reduce the cost of disposing of medicines. You can help us in the following ways:

  • Only order what you need - check your cupboards first and never stockpile medicines as this can be dangerous.
  • Take your medicines exactly as your doctor advises.
  • Tell your doctor or pharmacist if you’re not taking any of your medicines for any reason. They will be glad you told them.
  • Check your medicines bag before leaving the pharmacy and tell the pharmacist if there is anything you don’t need. Medicines can be reused if they have not left the pharmacy, but once they have left they have to be destroyed.
  • If you have any questions or concerns about your medicines, speak to your doctor or pharmacist.
  • Return unused medicines to your pharmacy so they can be disposed of safely.
  • Never flush medicines down the toilet or tip them down the sink as this harms the environment.


Recycle your inhaler

An inhaler recycling scheme is now available in the city, supported by GlaxoSmithKline (GSK), allowing people to return empty inhalers to their pharmacy to be safely and responsibly recycled or recovered.

Please recycle your inhalers if you can – do not put them in your household waste bin.

Where to recycle your inhaler

Finding advice on medications

We want you to get the best from your medicines so, if you need advice on any aspect of your medication, please speak to your local pharmacist.

Find your local pharmacist

Cover for Medicines Waste Report

Medicines Waste Report

A report on the root causes of medicines waste and recommendations for addressing the problem.

Other useful information