Antibiotics are ending up in Minnesota's lakes, so here's how to dispose of them properly

The answer is not to flush them down the toilet.

The Essentials

1. Scientists at the University of Minnesota recently found traces of antibiotics in sediment at the bottom of Lake Pepin, Lake Winona Winona and Duluth harbor.

2. Some of the 19 medications they found dated back to the 1950s, showing antibiotics don't dissipate when they reach Minnesota's waters.

3. It could have implications for aquatic flora and fauna, but also human health, with MPR reporting there are fears it could contribute to the growth of antibiotic-resistant bacteria.

The Big Picture

"It's clear the drugs we're taking — or worse off, disposing of down the toilet, which you shouldn't do — certainly wind up in lakes," University of Minnesota professor Bill Arnold told MPR.

So what do we do with our leftover medication? 

Flushing the stuff down the toilet will put it on a fast-train to local waterways. The Minnesota Pollution Control Agency says this will harm wildlife and fish, and can end up in our drinking water because most wastewater treatment systems can't remove medications.

Throwing prescription drugs in the trash is also no better for the environment. And keeping them at home isn't safe either – medicines in home cabinets are a major cause of accidental poisonings among children.

But there are plenty of places in Minnesota you can dispose of medications safely. You just need to take them to a drop-off location.

Here's how to find one close to you:

– Search for a local collection station using Earth 911 or Rethink Recycling.

– In Ramsey County, there are six public medication drop boxes, which you can find here.

– In Hennepin County, there are 11 drop boxes spread across police stations, public libraries and courts. A full list of them can be found here.

– If none of these help, contact your local sheriff's office or police department to find one near you.

More tips: You should check what medications are accepted in drop boxes as they can vary – some, for example, will accept needles and syringes but others won't.

– If your medication is in pill form, you generally are able to put the empty, leftover bottle in regular recycling – just check with your county waste provider first.

What if there are no collection centers near me?

If there are no drop box locations near where you live, here's the FDA's advice on how to dispose of them more safely in the regular trash.

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