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Disposal of unused or expired pharmaceuticals is neither safe nor environmentally-friendly. Current regulations for pharmaceutical disposal do not prevent environmental contamination. Industrial methods of disposing of waste medications can generate toxic compounds through incineration, or generate large volumes of waste through use of physical adsorbents. Medium sized providers (pharmacies, small clinics) typically hire expensive hazardous waste removal or dispose of these medications improperly.

The project goal is to deliver a safe, sustainable process, suitable for retail pharmacies and the like, for rendering pharmaceuticals chemically inactive. This project encompasses the development of a degradation process via testing of 5 model pharmaceuticals and the design and prototyping of a device. Conceptualization proved challenging as the target market and regulatory landscape continually evolve.

The process resulted in total degradation of 3 out of the 5 medicinal compounds at a reaction temperature of 150°C and pressure of 5 atm. Moreover, the team was able to develop a process that degraded these medications with subcritical water oxidation, utilizing microwave technology, allowing for greater safety by eliminating the need for a conduction heating unit, while simultaneously allowing for uniform heating throughout the solution. The process only requires tap-water as an input and coolant, which is inexpensive and ubiquitous. The lack of chemical transformation with 2 out of the 5 compounds indicates that further refinement and development are warranted. This machine will give the user the ability to dispose of medications without the worry of unintentional poisonings, illegal distribution, and environmental contamination.

Publication Date



Chemical and life science engineering, pharmaceutical waste, water oxidation


Chemical Engineering | Engineering

Faculty Advisor/Mentor

Dr. Bennett C. Ward

Faculty Advisor/Mentor

Dr. Kelechi C. Ogbonna

VCU Capstone Design Expo Posters


© The Author(s)

Date of Submission

August 2016

Smart Medication Disposal: Subcritical Water Oxidation of Pharmaceutical Compounds