How to Dispose of Empty Pill Bottles and Unused Pills

When we finish a bottle of pills or have leftover or expired medicine, disposing of them is more important than you may think. To help you manage the process, I’ve outlined the recommended disposal methods:

Practically all over-the-counter pill bottles are made with #1 polyethylene terephthalate plastic (PET or PETE) or #2 high-density polyethylene plastic– both of which can be discarded with your curbside-pickup recyclables.  Check the number inside the recycling triangle on the underside of the bottle to be sure.  However, the orange, opaque bottles are made of #5 polypropylene plastic (PP) and cannot be picked up curbside.  Although #5 plastic is recyclable, the bottles’ small sizes get trapped in the recycling machines and disable them.  Also, their color taints the plastic repurposing process.

So, what should you do with #5 plastic bottles? 

  • Many pharmacies will take them back.  Check with yours to learn if and how they do.
  • Bring them to Whole Foods which has #5 plastic recycling bins.
  • Matthew: 25 Ministries www.m25m.org will accept OTC and prescription bottles of all sizes and reuse them for medical shipments to developing nations. You can ship them to the address provided on their website after cleaning the bottles to their specifications and removing or crossing out your personal information for privacy.

Unused pills also have specific disposal methods.  Some medicines are safe to flush but others release chemicals into our waterways that harm wildlife and our drinking water.  Tossing them in the trash is also dangerous as people and pets may access them and they can also contaminate the ground.

If you have extra pills on hand:

  • Find out if your pharmacy has a prescription take-back program.  Most Walgreens allow you to drop off pills and bottles and many CVS stores have collection bins.
  • Visit the US Drug Enforcement Administration’s locator to find collection drop-offs. 
  • Refer to the attached FDA document on pill disposal which identifies pills that can be flushed and how to safely discard those that can’t.

While keeping ourselves safe and healthy, let’s remember to do the same for our planet!

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