man's hand outstretched filled withe prescription pills and tablets

As you’re moving couches around to capture stray dust bunnies and putting new shelf liner in the pantry and all those other annual oddities my mother never taught me…an area in your home that is probably worthy of a little spring cleaning and examination is your medicine cabinet.

Whether it is behind the mirror or in a drawer or a linen closet shelf or anywhere else you might stash over-the-counter and prescription drugs, take the time to peer at those tiny dates stamped on bottles and jars—they are difficult to read but important to check.

Syrups, pills, gel capsules, tablets, balms…if you’re super motivated and have makeup products that expire, chuck those now, too (hello eye makeup). Check vitamins, too. This is not the time to be thrifty and try and save a few cents--replace what needs to be replaced. Even if you’ve got to grab your reading glasses, find those date stamps. Every medicine, prescription or over-the-counter, has an expiration date. With medicine, we’re not just talking about a potential funky smell, like expired food, but there can be some serious consequences of using expired drugs. Most of us have a grander pharmacopeia than we realize. I know, there are probably aspirin tablets rattling around in the bottle of your travel case and antacids in the guest room, but chemical components break down and destabilize, so they really shouldn’t be in your world after their “Use by” date.

Those tiny dates stamped on bottles and jars are difficult to read but important to check.

Don’t just toss them in the trash! Medicines and drugs that go into regular waste/garbage systems can quite easily end up in the groundwater from landfills, or our water system/streams/rivers/oceans if you flush them down the toilet. Neither is an option. There are federal guidelines for proper drug disposal, including guidance to community drug take-back programs for proper disposal, or, worst-case scenario, make them unusable by anyone else. Remove pills or liquids from the original container and mix them with an undesirable substance, like coffee grounds or cat litter (making them unappealing to children and pets). Place the unpalatable mixture in a sealed bag, can, or other container to prevent drugs from leaking out (and becoming intriguing to birds and other animals around landfills). Before you throw out the prescription bottle, scratch out all identifying information on the label to make it unreadable—this is an often forgotten means of stealing identity information.


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About The Author

Andrew Mersmann's picture

Andrew is the author of Frommer's global guide to volunteer vacations, "500 Places Where You Can Make a Difference" (Gold Medal Winner from Society of American Travel Writers: Best Guide Book 2010). He spent more than a decade on the editorial team of PASSPORT Magazine. He has volunteered and led teams on service projects around the world, and is honored to be on the boards of directors for the Alisa Ann Ruch Burn Foundation ( and Mentor Artists Playwrights Project ( Mersmann has been a featured speaker, interview guest, or moderator on several travel talks, from the New York Times Travel Show, Smithsonian Associates, and the 92nd Street Y-TriBeCa to Oprah and Friends, Animal House, and The Focus Group on satellite radio as well as on NY1 television. Past participant at the Clinton Global Initiative and judge for Condé Nast World Changers Conference, he blogs about volunteering and service travel at As part of the evox television team, he is dedicated to audience engagement, so if you're not engaged, he needs to be thumped on the head (gently)...or at least told (nicely). Twitter: /ChangeByDoing

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