Ways to reuse old prescription bottles

Prescription medicine bottles typically can’t be recycled in the US (I’m not sure about other countries). Even if your prescription bottle has a recycle emblem stamped into the bottom, that doesn’t mean your local recycling agencies will do anything but destroy it. This all has to do with safety regulations: governments are worried that traces of the medication will somehow survive the recycling process and harm someone. What can you do if you’re stuck receiving these types of bottles on a regular basis?

Ways to reuse old prescription bottles

Reusing old prescription bottles

Remember: recycling is the last resort in the waste reduction process (reduce, reuse, recycle). If you can’t recycle an item, that means you need to focus on reducing its usage and/or repurposing it.

Reusing your own bottles. Small local pharmacies have allowed me to bring back my bottles when I need a refill. That enables them to use the same bottle over and over for me. In theory, one bottle could easily last you decades on a monthly prescription. I don’t know if big box pharmacies will do this – if you have insurance with co-pays, you’ll pay the same wherever you fill your prescriptions (except on those drugs where Target has a $4 co-pay), so in most cases you will get better service and more careful reviews of your medications from a small business. That’s in my experience, anyway.

So this is one really great way to maximize a prescription bottle’s usefulness before it goes to the landfill and save lots of other bottles from needing to be used, which eventually results in fewer of these non-recyclable bottles being produced in the first place. If everyone with a regular prescription did this, just imagine the reduction in the number of these bottles that would be manufactured.

Programs that reuse them for you. If you just get a one-time prescription, it may not be practical to try to hold onto it until the next time you need something similar. Or you might need a prescription while on vacation. For lots of reasons, no matter how you try, you may end up with an empty prescription bottle you have absolutely no use for. Because prescription bottles can be sterilized (it’s just that recycling them doesn’t have this effect) there are a few programs that will take these off your hands.

  • Vets. Some local vets will take old prescription bottles off your hands to dispense medication for pets. Call around to find out which local vets are interested in your bottles.
  • Charitable organizations. Some charities will reuse old prescription bottles to dispense medications in third world countries. Unfortunately, there’s no list of charities that do this, so I invite anyone who’s found a charity who recycles these bottles to post its contact info in the comments, no matter how local the charity is. Otherwise, you just have to call local medical charities and see if anyone’s interested.
  • Free clinics and homeless shelters. These organizations may also take and reuse these containers – rules governing whether they can use these to dispense medication are local, so your area may not allow it. But if it does, call around the clinics and shelters in your area to see. Try your local Union Rescue Mission for starters.

Reusing prescription bottles at home

Be sure to sterilize prescription bottles before putting anything in them that might conceivably wind up in a mouth – that includes kids and pets. Even if you’re storing something completely inedible in them, give these bottles a good, thorough dunk in boiling water before reusing them.

Once they’ve been sterilized, prescription bottles can be great for storing and carrying small items.

  • Store craft supplies. Little beads and fixtures can be stored in these. It’s easier to travel with several little bottles of the beads you’re working with at the moment than a big case with divided sections. And the caps on prescription bottles ensure they’ll never spill.
  • Store hardware. Nails, screws and other small bits of hardware fit into these and, as with the crafts, you never have to worry about them spilling again. This can be helpful in the garage or around a workshop.
  • Store Barbie shoes and similar tiny toy items. By now you’re getting the idea: you can store any collection of tiny things in these. This is a great way to round up Barbie shoes and other small toys so they’re all in one place (and not your vacuum cleaner).
  • Glue them together to make a custom drawer or desktop organizer. Get the bottles arranged in the drawer the way you want them. Pick them up and put them on another surface, carefully mimicking the arrangement you had in the drawer as you glue them together.
  • Pen holders, paperclip holders, etc. Your business can stop buying little dishes for your paperclips and pens and start using prescription bottles. Cover them with recycled magazine pages or junk mail to make them look pretty (you could get really fancy or funky with this!).
  • Make a mini-sewing kit. Put a few buttons, some thread, some needles, etc. in a bottle and keep it with you for “wardrobe malfunctions.” From Trashformations.
  • Make a mini-first aid kit. Put cotton balls, band-aids, alcohol pads, etc., in a prescription bottle and keep it with you. You could make one for your home, one for a car, one for a purse, one for the office… From Trashformations.
  • Store mixed acrylic paints. Use these bottles to mix acrylic paints. If you don’t use a batch all in one project, stuff a layer of Saran wrap down in the bottle, against the paint, to close out as much air as possible. The paint may need to be thinned slightly next time, but thanks to having been nicely sealed up in the prescription bottle it’s still usable.

What uses have you found for old prescription bottles?


  1. says

    I used to use film canisters for this, but now that film is generally obsolete, prescription bottles are a great replacement! Slightly weirder connotations and I certainly wouldn’t use them in a business context (probably because I wouldn’t want to admit to having so many bottles), but the others ideas are nifty.

  2. says

    I recycle them into coin purses. I also include bottle caps, buttons, fabric and leather scraps, emblishments, fabric paint and lots of glue. I have them on my site on my recycle page.

  3. SnappyLiving says

    Not quite, Ed… it sounds like in your area, they’re using plastics they’re prepared to recycle – which is great, and hopefully a sign of things to come for us all. But in mine, and apparently in most regions, the bottles have no recycle code, and therefore local recycling facility doesn’t know how to deal with them.

    In other regions, regulations vary, and (for one example) it doesn’t matter that there’s no code, but people are still told they can’t recycle these bottles due to their shape. Here’s a good article to give examples of regional variances:


    Hopefully what you’re seeing will become the norm.

  4. Donna Lee says

    Reusing these containers is merely postponing the inevitable. As green-minded individuals pass on, the offending containers WILL eventually meet their fate in the landfills. The only solution I can see is contacting the pharmaceutical companies and imploring them to do away with the non-green containers, in favor of more environmentally-friendly ones. We MUST begin at the source. Let’s be the “squeaky wheel!”

  5. RJ says

    Being a knitter and crocheter, I use the larger perscription bottles to hold crochet hooks, small double pointed knitting needles, stitch markers, etc. Believe me, I really tried to find more things to do with so many bottles.

  6. mal says

    The methadone treatment program here reuses plastic take-home bottles which are refilled with liquid methadone. i dont feel comfortable about this. Is this legal?

  7. judith says

    Used bottles are perfect for keeping change in the car. Lock tight cap. Grab bottle when you need change at drive thru or toll booth.

  8. says

    I recently saw a program where tons of plastics have made their way into the oceans and are causing damage to the fish population, as some of the plastic breaks down the fish eat it and then we catch the fish and we end up eating it. This is not good. There should be a way for a company to be started that can within regulations sterilize these pill bottles and reuse them. It would save from having to produce more and more plastic. This company could make arrangements with pharmacies, pick up their empty bottles, get them sterilized, and reship them out to the pharmacies. I wish they never invented plastic, man did not perceive what the long term tragic events would result in the production and use of it. At least glass wont end up in landfills and is easily recycled. Just my thoughts. Thanks.

  9. Meg says

    I use my bottles to hold earrings when travelling, single earrings (one lost), rings, small portions of OTC medicine when I buy large containers at Costco, and of course as an on the go pill case.

  10. says

    I use old prescription bottles to store either hair accessories (like bobby pins) or spices (like taco seasoning or gelatin). It helps me keep things together and prevents me from having packets of powder all over my cupboards. The only thing is that I only recycle those bottles that I can get the labels off of!! And, sometimes people make fun of the fact that I’m on prescription medication.

    • SnappyLiving says

      People make fun of you for being on medication? That’s not right! :(

      Love your spice storage idea!

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