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?
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 copays, you’ll pay the same wherever you fill your prescriptions (except on those drugs where Target has a $4 copay), 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?