How To Recycle Plastic Pill Bottles {Explained!}

By Rebekah Pierce

Looking for a way to recycle those plastic pill bottles? You’re in luck! Here’s how to reuse them around the house.

Can You Recycle Plastic Pill Bottles?

It might not seem like putting one plastic pill bottle in the recycling bin will make that big of a difference. However, when you consider that Americans fill more than 4 billion prescriptions each year – not to mention over-the-counter medications – and you’ll see that the numbers start to add up.

You can recycle plastic pill bottles. In fact, it’s easy to do. Much easier, in fact, than disposing of the medications that the pill bottles once contained.

Before you recycle any pill bottles, make sure you get rid of the medication inside. Don’t pour medications down the drain or toilet but also make sure you aren’t putting half-full bottles inside the recycling bin.

To figure out the most effective way to excel your old prescription bottles, contact your local pharmacy. They’ll tell you the best way to get rid of them in your area. 

Make sure the pill bottle is empty and be sure to remove or blackout the label. Otherwise, your personal information could be compromised. Make sure all paper and packaging are removed from the bottle. Put the lid on or put the lid in the trash – loose lids can’t be recycled. 

Finally, note that not all plastic pill bottles can be recycled, though some can. To make sure your bottle is recycled, check that it is #1 through #7. Again, the lid should be attached.

Now, here’s the caveat – these bottles are recyclable, but you shouldn’t put them in your curbside recycling bin. Most do not accept prescription medication bottles because of their small size. Although they’re made of a recyclable plastic material, they’re just too small.

To find a facility that accepts #5 plastic in this small size, check the Recycle Nation website. Again, you can check with your local pharmacy or the U.S. Drug Enforcement Administration to find a drop-off center. 

Other Options For Recycling Plastic Pill Bottles

There are programs that make it easier for you to recycle your plastic pill bottles. One is Gimme 5. This program lets you mail in any kind of #5 plastics (including those that you might not be able to put in your curbside recycling bin) so you can help protect the environment.

Even animal shelters often accept used bottles. Check with your local ASPCA clinic to find out if they’re in need. You can also check with local medical clinics or homeless shelters. Some pharmacy chains like CVS or Walgreens have medical disposal kiosks to make things easier, too. 

Another organization that accepts old pill bottles is Matthew 25: Ministries. This international humanitarian aid and disaster relief organization takes donations of all plastic pill bottles. It then repurposes these to help communities in need. 

You can send back both prescription and over-the-counter pill bottles, regardless of the size. The organization accepts pill bottles with and without caps, even child-resistant caps.

What Can You Do With Old Pill Bottles?

Fortunately, recycling isn’t your only option if you want to give new life to your old pill bottles. You can repurpose them! You just need to get creative.

Again, you’ll want to make sure your pill bottles are empty and clean before doing any kind of project. However, you can then repurpose your bottles by making things like:

  • Cotton swab or bobby pin containers
  • Coin holders
  • Seed storage containers
  • Earbud holders
  • Portable sewing kit containers
  • Travel-size containers for lotions, soaps, shampoos, and conditioners
  • Containers for other small items, like jewelry, buttons, knickknacks, or even makeup

Essentially, if you have anything small that you need to keep contained, a plastic pill bottle is a great choice. Just make sure it’s cleaned out and sanitized before you store anything in it (especially if you’re storing anything in it that you plan to consume later on). 

Want to think outside the box even more? This fun idea has melting pill bottles to turn them into robots! While that might be outside your scope of abilities (or interests), it’s still a cool idea. Check out this video for more details:

What Are Some Alternatives to Plastic Prescription Medication Bottles?

Want to skip the plastic prescription bottles entirely? In some cases, you might be able to. You just need to pay attention to what options are available in your area. 

Polypropylene tends to be the most popular material for prescription medication containers. However, there are solutions in the works to help get around this.

The Prescription Paper Pill Bottle is one 100% compostable option that’s been designed by Tikkun Olam Makers. Another option is ECOvials, which is a plant-based vial. These are hard to find, but it’s worth asking your pharmacy if they have any eco-friendly options like this in the works. 

How Do I Get Rid of Medications?

You know how to get rid of pill bottles – but what do you do about the actual medications? According to the FDA, expired or unused medications are best disposed of via a take-back program. You can also check with your local pharmacy about its on-site drop-off or mail-back programs. 

Worst case scenario, you can get rid of unused medications in your trash. However, you should mix it with another material, like coffee grounds, to disguise it. Again, makes sure you hide any personal information on the container.

Want to flush your medications? In some cases, you can – but it’s important to check this list from the FDA to figure out whether it’s safe to do so first. 

So, what can you do with all those plastic pill bottles? Consider these tips to help recycle them and make the most of your old medicine containers. 

Not only will you be helping the environment, but you may also find that you enjoy the process and come up with some fun new ways to reuse those bottles! Get creative – and don’t be afraid to think outside of the box.

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