How to Dispose of Old Prescription Bottles

You’ve probably visited the drugstore at some point to get prescription medication for yourself or someone you know. So, you are all too familiar with how medications frequently arrive in bottles.

Of course, you know that the bottle cannot be kept indefinitely after the medication has been consumed. Usually, when your prescription is over, and you’re done with the drugs, the bottle is left lying around with no other use.

Getting rid of these bottles is a little tricky because most curbside recycling schemes do not take these plastic bottles. Still, there are methods to properly recycle them and keep them from stacking up in landfills.

Why You Should Properly Dispose of Prescription Bottles

Over 70% of Americans use prescription medications. With hundreds of prescriptions ordered every day, pill bottles—full or empty—require safe handling to prevent the leak of sensitive Protected Health Information.

The pill bottle label contains several private PHI pieces (Protected Health Information). This includes a patient’s name, address, how often the medication is taken, the drug’s ID number, the doctor’s name, the pharmacy location, and more.

When disposing of expired, unused, or empty pill bottles, the utmost care must be taken to ensure patient information is not exposed.

Throwing empty pill bottles in the dumpster seriously threatens patient security. Therefore, it is not a reasonable disposal option. On the black market, medical information is worth 10 times more than credit card information on the black market—dedicated thieves are happy to rifle through some garbage to obtain this information.

Are Bill Bottles Recyclable?

Pill bottles are indeed recyclable, so long as certain conditions are met before putting them in your curbside recycling bin. Every municipal recycling facility has different criteria for what it will and won’t accept for recycling — an issue that leads to a lot of confusion around recycling. It must also be noted that not all municipalities take pill bottles as part of plastic recycling.

A good rule of thumb is to call your town’s sanitation department to ask if they take them. You can also clarify if they accept them through curbside pickup or dropoff.

These bottles, the translucent orange containers with a white, child-proof lid, are usually made of polypropylene, a recyclable plastic marked by #5. Despite being made of recyclable material, most recycling systems cannot recycle them properly because of their small size.

How to Prepare Bottles for Recycling

Some drop-off centers will accept both the bottles and the unused medication they contain, but you’ll want to check the specific guidelines first. When in doubt, remove the medication from the container and dispose of it according to guidelines. Then, rinse and dry the plastic container to ensure no leftover residue.

You can check our article on How to Dispose of Expired Medication.

You’ll also want to remove the sticker label that contains your personal information from the bottle. Removing the sticker entirely is best, but if this isn’t possible, scratch out the information with a permanent marker.

These are the best steps to take, whether you’re putting them in the trash, bringing them to a drop-off center, or donating them.

You might also consider requesting a 90-day supply of your prescription; some pharmacies are able to provide this in one larger bottle, which will reduce the number of bottles you use over time.

Ways to Recycle Your Old Prescription Bottles

Recycle Old Prescription Bottles

1. Curbside Pickup

This option also depends on where you live and if they accept curbside pickup for prescription bottles. It is best if you ask your curbside recycling program if it accepts prescription bottles beforehand.

Many municipal recycling programs with curbside pickup sort their recyclables using a trommel screening device. It’s a rotary screen with small holes that are used to sift through the material and remove unwanted debris.

Bottles, cans, and containers as large as water bottles remain in the trommel for proper recycling, but broken glass, pieces of plastic, rocks, and other items that are too small to be recycled fall through the holes and are sent to the landfill.

That means your prescription bottles more often than not, end up sitting in a landfill.

2. Recycling Centers

A better option is to see if your local recycling center accepts #5 plastic. You can check online or call ahead and ask if they accept prescription bottles. Some programs collect used bottles and repurpose them.

A simple online search may often uncover viable recycling possibilities outside of your municipal recycling program. You might also search for a prescription bottle recycling facility on Earth911. We recommend that you always contact the facility ahead of to ensure that it will take your items.

3. Give It to Hospitals/ Pharmacies

You can contact your pharmacy about medication reconciliation. You may want to ask if they take back pill bottles as well. Customers can hand out their empty containers to pharmacists, who black out their identifying information before sending them to a local recycling facility. It is even easier to go to the same pharmacy or hospital from which you got the drugs.

You can also utilize the search engine provided by the Drug Enforcement Administration to locate a drop-off site near you.

4. Make a Donation

As for donation programs, some will collect and reuse old bottles. Matthew 25: Ministries, situated in Cincinnati, is one such ministry that takes mailed-in bottle donations. Instructions are available on the organization’s website.

Some animal sanctuaries may welcome your old bottles as well. You may check with your local ASPCA to see if they need anything. Consider contacting local clinics and homeless shelters since some take bottle donations.

5. Shred It

shredder to shred plastic

Pill bottle shredding services provide a fast, convenient, and reliable way to ensure the medical information on pill bottles is kept safe.

They are convenient because your pill bottles can be picked up from your location and driven to a secure shredding plant for destruction.

If you toss your pill bottles in the recycling bin, they will most likely not be recycled and might end up in a landfill, which ultimately affects the environment. This is due to their small size and the way they typically sort the materials. When you use a pill bottle shredding service, the shredded pieces can be recycled because they are collected in bulk.

To find a pill shredding service around you, check the internet and use your zip code for an exact location.

If all else fails, which is very unlikely, you can decide to

Reuse and Repurpose Prescription Bottles

recycle prescription bottle

A few decades ago, most people tossed their empty prescription bottles in the trash after they finished their medication. If they were of a certain crafty type, they found ways to reuse those bottles. There are many ways you can decide to use your old prescription bottles, especially after you’ve washed them properly and removed all personal information. Here are some ideas on how to repurpose your bottles.

1. Secure storage

You may use old prescription bottles to store goods, particularly toys that you don’t want laying about. Of course, the size of the pill bottle plays a significant role in this. Legos, Barbie outfits, action figures, finger paint, crayons, bubble solution, and dice are among the items that may be kept.

It does not stop with toys. You can also use pill bottles to hold office supplies like pushpins and paper clips.

2. Perfume on the Go

If you prefer to wear perfume but don’t want to carry the entire bottle, your old medication bottles might come in handy. Simply soak a cotton ball or two in your scent. Close the pill container after inserting it. The tight top would keep the scent from escaping; you could reach for the bottle and use your perfume whenever you want.

3. Electrical Project

Assume you’re working on a science class electrical project. The pill bottles might be used in the construction of a light bulb.

The pill bottles may be used to install LEDs or switches and feed wires and circuitry through. They would also look great as Christmas lights.

4. Survival Mini Kit

Additionally, old medication bottles may be used to create a little survival pack. By storing items like extra change, matches, and other supplies you may require when camping or boating. Little things like these will ensure that you weather the storm and survive.

5. Create Your Own Sewing Kit

An old medication container may be used to make a sewing kit.

This is quite simple. Simply insert the needle, straight pins, safety pins, spare buttons, and thread into the plastic prescription tube, and you’re ready to go.

SEE: How to Dispose of Paint Cans

Bottomline

Getting rid of old prescription bottles is just as important as getting rid of prescription drugs. It might take a while because it’s not as easy to dispose of, but following the steps above might help. Remember to make sure there are no drugs in the bottle before recycling, and you should also get rid of your personal information.

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