Can You Recycle Pill Bottles? – Steps and Tips to Reuse and Repurpose

Last updated on May 30, 2024

While some recycling facilities accept pill bottles, many do not, making it crucial to research local guidelines or consider other environmentally friendly uses for empty medication containers.

Key takeaways:

  • Confirm the type of plastic
  • Empty and clean bottles
  • Check local guidelines for caps and labels
  • Dispose of medication correctly
  • Explore recycling and donation options
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Are Pill Bottles Recyclable?

The recyclability of pill bottles depends on the materials they are made from. Most are comprised of plastics #1 (PETE) or #2 (HDPE), which are widely accepted by municipal recycling programs. However, challenges arise due to their small size and the residue often left inside. These factors can contaminate recycling streams or cause pill bottles to be filtered out during the sorting process.

Here’s what you need to know:

  • Confirm the type of plastic: Look for the recycling number on the bottom of the bottle.
  • Empty and clean: Ensure bottles are empty, and rinse them out to remove any medication residue.
  • Caps on or off: Check local guidelines to determine if you should leave the caps on or take them off.
  • Medication labels: Personal information should be removed for privacy reasons.

Before tossing them into the recycle bin, consider these points to ensure your pill bottles will be successfully recycled and not contribute to landfill waste.

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How to Recycle Pill Bottles

Before tossing pill bottles into the recycling bin, it’s essential to clean them thoroughly. Remove any labels that contain personal information for security reasons as well as to facilitate the recycling process. Labels can often be soaked off with warm, soapy water.

Check the recycling number typically found on the bottom of the container, usually inside the ubiquitous recycling triangle logo. Most pill bottles are made of #5 plastic, polypropylene, which is recyclable in some, but not all, municipalities. Ensure that your local recycling program accepts #5 plastic.

It’s also critical to separate the components of a pill bottle. Caps are often made of a different type of plastic than the bottle and need to be recycled separately. Place the bottle and cap in their respective recycling containers according to the local guidelines.

Empty bottles should never contain any pills or medication residue. Leftover medications should be disposed of following the guidelines of a pharmacy or local hazardous waste program, not in the regular trash or recycling, to prevent harm to the environment or wildlife.

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Options to Get Rid of Old Pill Bottles

When it comes time to dispose of old pill bottles, consider these environmentally friendly options:

1. Pharmacy Take-Back Programs: Many pharmacies offer programs where you can bring your empty prescription bottles for proper disposal or recycling. They handle the materials according to local regulations and ensure any personal information is securely destroyed.

2. Local Recycling Facilities: Check with your city’s recycling center to see if they accept #5 plastic, which is what most pill bottles are made from. Clean and remove any labels to protect your personal information before recycling.

3. Creative Reuse: Pill bottles are perfectly sized for small storage needs. Use them for organizing crafts, screws and nails, or even as travel-sized shampoo containers.

4. Community Donations: Some organizations accept donations of clean, label-free pill bottles to use in low-resource settings, like free clinics or veterinary offices.

By choosing any of these paths, you’re contributing to a circular economy and reducing waste.

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Find a Pill Bottle Recycler Near You

To locate a pill bottle recycling facility in your area:

  • Utilize online resources such as or, which offer searchable databases for finding recycling centers and information on the specific materials they accept.
  • Contact local pharmacies; they often have take-back programs or know of places that do.
  • Check with your municipal waste management facility. Sometimes they provide special collection days or guidelines for recycling prescription containers.
  • Explore community recycling groups on social media platforms, where you can learn from others’ experiences and get regional advice.
  • Inquire at health clinics or hospitals. Some may participate in recycling programs for prescription containers or direct you to suitable facilities.

Always clean and prepare the bottles as instructed—usually requiring you to remove labels and ensure they are free of medication residue.

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Charitable organizations often welcome donations of clean, empty pill bottles which can be repurposed for a multitude of uses. These bottles are ideal for distributing medications in low-income or disaster-impacted regions due to their durability and safety features. Moreover, they can serve in various community projects, such as organizing small craft supplies in schools or being transformed into mini first aid kits for the homeless.

Before donating, remove labels to protect your privacy and clean the bottles thoroughly to ensure they are free from medication residue. Organizations such as Matthew 25: Ministries accept pill bottle donations and provide specific guidelines on how to prepare them. Alternatively, local veterinary clinics, art schools, or senior centers might also appreciate these donations for their storage needs. Engaging in this form of recycling not only diverts plastic from landfills but also contributes to global humanitarian efforts and community well-being.

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What do I do with empty pill bottles?

Reuse empty pill bottles as handy containers for storing a variety of small items such as earbuds, bobby pins, coins, and mini sewing kits, making them perfect for travel and organization.

Why can’t you recycle pill bottles?

Pill bottles, often constructed from hard, heat-resistant #5 plastic or polypropylene, pose challenges to traditional recycling processes due to their small size and the specific recycling infrastructure required for this type of plastic, which not all municipal services offer.

Do I need to remove labels from prescription bottles?

While not mandatory, it’s greatly preferred to remove labels from prescription bottles before recycling them to ensure privacy and efficient processing.

How do you recycle medicine containers?

Medicine containers such as tablet blister packs, cardboard packaging, glass and plastic bottles, and jars can be disposed of in your dedicated recycling bin.

Can pill bottles be reused for other purposes?

Yes, pill bottles can be repurposed for various uses such as organizing small items, storing seeds, or serving as compact emergency kits.

Are there any specific recycling programs for medication containers?

Yes, certain pharmacies and organizations run specific recycling programs for medication containers.

In what scenarios should pill bottles definitely be disposed in regular waste bins?

Pill bottles should be disposed of in regular waste bins when they have contained controlled substances, as local recycling programs and pharmacies often cannot accept them due to regulatory constraints.

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