Q&A: Recycling Prescription Bottles

Are you good about recycling prescription bottles or pill bottles? In my house when you finish a bottle of ibuprofen or cough syrup, or a box of allergy medicine, everything goes in the recycling bin.

We rinse out the bottles and flatten the boxes. Then, we put these containers out with the rest of the recyclables on trash/recycling day.

Overview of recycling prescription bottles

Turns out there are lots of options for recycling pill bottles–or anything plastic for that matter. This includes shampoo containers from the shower or the milk jugs and salad dressing bottles from the refrigerator.

Don’t have curbside or community-wide recycling programs for paper, plastics, glass or other items? Well, there are other options for recycling bottles and more that you may not know about.

recycling plastic pill bottles pin

What kind of plastic bottles can you recycle

Before I get into the nitty gritty of where you can recycle pill bottles and more, let’s talk about the different kinds of plastics you may want to recycle. In case you didn’t know, every plastic container should have a number or lettered symbol on the bottom. This symbol (usually inside a recycling “chasing arrows” triangle) lets you know which kind of plastic it is.

It’s important to know these differences in case your recycling program doesn’t take all kinds of plastic. I know this was true a few years ago, before companies switched to single-stream recycling. Single stream means you put everything together–paper, plastic, glass–in one recycling container.

Nonetheless, here is a quick refresher on the different kinds of plastic you might have in your home. And which you might one day need to recycle.

Plastic bottles made from #1 PETE

What is #1 PET or PETE plastic? This is the plastic that you find used in most soda bottles and water bottles. This is probably one of the most common plastics in bottles and likely the most recycled–especially in states with bottle deposits.

Also, you may have heard the news about how Sprite bottles will no longer be green. Instead, they’ve changed to clear so they can be more easily recycled.

#2 HDPE Plastic

HDPE is the common plastic for milk containers and liquid laundry detergent jugs. You’ll even find that cereal box liners are made from HDPE plastic. That means that if you can recycle bottles made from HDPE, then you should be able to recycle cereal box liners made from HDPE, too. HDPE is a commonly accepted plastic for recycling.

#3 PVC Plastic

When I think of #3 PVC, I think about the white pipes that you use in plumbing. Turns out vegetable oil bottles are made from #3 PVC plastic.

#4 LDPE plastic

#4 LDPE is the kind of plastic that is used to make plastic bags. While you cannot recycle plastic bags in curbside recycling, many stores have plastic bag bins where you can recycle them. This includes Target.

Also, this article about bringing your own bags to the store includes a section on recycling plastic bags. Basically, you should be recycling plastic bags and not just the kind that hold groceries. You can recycle plastic wrappers from toilet paper packaging, plastic around cases of drinks and those plastic sleeves that bread comes in.

#5 PP or polypropylene

In my mind, you use polypropylene to make wetsuits. However, polypropylene is the plastic used in ketchup bottles and yogurt cups. Also, based on this post’s theme, PP is used to make prescription and pill bottles, which you now know you can recycle.

#6 PS polystyrene

Polystyrene is the material used to make non-cardboard egg cartons. Unfortunately, it is not recyclable. Therefore, it has to go in the garbage. Some localities have banned polystyrene containers for takeout food.

#7 Other plastics for recycling

Here’s what it means when you see the number seven on the bottom of a bottle. It’s basically the catchall for a plastic product that doesn’t fit into the categories one through six.

Some polycarbonate bottles, such as reusable drinking bottles, have a #7 inside the chasing arrows and then the letters “PC” underneath. The good news? Yes, you can recycle polycarbonate.

Which prescription bottles are recyclable

In my own medicine cabinet, I’ve got prescription medicines in two kinds of bottles. And none of them is the #5 plastics that led me to write this article in the first place.

One prescription is in the traditional tan, clear bottle. On the bottom it says 1 in the chasing arrows triangle, with PETE underneath.

The other prescription is in an opaque white bottle On the bottom it has the number 2 in the chasing arrows triangle. Underneath it reads HDPE. Clearly, both of these should be no problem to recycle.

recycling prescription bottles

Where to recycle prescription plastic bottles and more

So, where can you go to recycle pill bottles? Thankfully, there are a number of stores that offer plastic bottle recycling that anyone can use. Here is a brief list:

Recycling at Target

target in store recycling

As I mentioned, Target now has recycling stations at the front of all of its stores. There you’ll find receptacles for recycling three categories of items:

  1. Single stream recycling for glass, plastic and aluminum. (I’m surprised it doesn’t include paper, too.)
  2. Plastic bags
  3. MP3, cellphones and ink cartridges

According to Target, the materials collected at the front of the store are added to the “back of the store” items Target recycles. This includes corrugated cardboard, plastic shrink wrap, garment hangers and shopping carts.

Also, Target has a car seat trade in and recycling program. Good to know if you have a child who has outgrown a car seat.

car seat recycling

Recycling at Staples

Speaking of ink cartridges, you’d do better for your bottom line to bring them to Staples for recycling. Members of the Staples Rewards program (free to join) can get $2 in cash back for recycling ink cartridges and toner in store. You can recycle up to 10 of these each month.

That’s $20 that you’ll get in a rewards certificate that you can spend at Staples. If you’re looking to save on back to school shopping, this $20 can help cut the sting of inflation.

Finally, Staples also recycles used electronics and batteries.

How to reuse prescription bottles

Let’s say that recycling prescription bottles just isn’t in the cards. Well, don’t throw them out. Reuse or repurpose them. Here are a few ideas. 

  • Donate them to schools, shelters or charitable organizations that use them to create “trial sized” bottles of shampoo, lotion, and toothpaste that they can give out to the homeless and poor.
  • Use them as mini-storage containers. A guy I know uses them for small electronic parts and hardware. His wife keeps needles, pins, spare buttons, craft supplies and more in them.
  • Bring them to a local vet or animal shelter, which might be able to reuse the bottles when filling prescriptions for its animal patients.

Have I missed anything? Do you have other ideas for recycling or reusing prescription bottles? Or, are you aware of other stores that have recycling stations like Target does?

If so, post a comment to let me know.

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