What To Do With Empty Pill Bottles?

Your prescription may have ended, but the usability of your plastic pill bottle has not. Empty pill bottles– also called medicine bottles, prescription bottles, or plastic vials–  risk joining billions of discarded plastic bottles in landfills. With over 4 billion retail prescriptions filled annually in the United States, that’s a lot of plastic waste!


Empty prescription bottles can be recycled, but not always with your curbside recycling. If you're wondering what to do with empty pill bottles, consider recycling them through qualified programs, donating them, or finding creative ways to reuse them.

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Recycling Empty Pill Bottles

Pill and supplement bottles can take many shapes, from plastic vials to plastic packer or glass packer bottles. This article mainly addresses pharmacy bottles, often depicted with an orange-yellow body and white cap, like our amber plastic vials. Packer bottles are easier to recycle as long as they are made of a recyclable material and cleaned.

What Are My Recycling Options?

The first step to recycling empty medicine bottles is understanding what kind of plastic can be recycled. Pharmacy bottles are commonly made out of #5 plastic, polypropylene (PP). Contact your local recycling facility and inquire about the items they accept. Pill bottles can’t always be recycled because of their small size and #5 plastic composition.

Aside from recycling facilities, you might reside near an organization that collects medicine bottles and recycles them for you. These are often fire departments, pharmacies, and medicine disposal centers. Searching for “empty pill bottle recycling near me” or asking around your area will help you locate such places.

You can also opt for a mail-back program, such as Ship ‘n’ Shred. This will require you to ship a box of your prescription bottles through FedEx to a facility equipped to handle them.

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Steps to Prepare Pill Bottles for Recycling

Before you decide what to do with empty pill bottles, they will need to be emptied of any excess medication. 

  1. To safely dispose of your medication, inspect the labels on the pill bottle for any specific directions. Pharmacies such as Walgreens, CVS, and Publix offer safe medication disposal. You can also locate medicine disposal facilities via the Drug Enforcement Administration search tool or Google Maps.
  2. Once your bottles are empty, they will need to be washed to remove both drug residue as well as the label and adhesive. This can be achieved using hot water and dish soap, but bottles with stubborn adhesive may need to be submerged in boiling water. Other substances that can help with glue-removal include rubbing alcohol, citrus essential oil, and a blend of cooking oil and baking soda. Typical pharmacy bottles also tend to be dishwasher safe since #5 plastic can withstand high temperatures.
  3. Rinse and dry your prescription bottles thoroughly.

Why You Should Recycle Pill Bottles

Only 9% of produced plastic has been recycled, leading to growing landfills of plastic waste. Additionally, around 0.5% of plastic waste ends up in oceans. Recycling medication bottles is a necessary step in preserving our natural resources, such as our water and soil. Since improper recycling can prove more costly than beneficial, following product-specific procedures such as those for empty medicine bottles ensures all recycling is effective.

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Donating Pill Bottles

Apart from recycling, donating pill bottles is one way to put reusable plastics into the hands of people in need.

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What Are My Donating Options?

What sets donation centers apart is what they do with medicine bottles after collecting them. Organizations such as Matthew 25 Ministries collect empty pill bottles to send to communities battling poverty or disaster. The bottles are then reused to fill new prescriptions. If your pill bottle still contains medication, you may choose to donate to SIRUM, an organization which accepts and redistributes surplus medication, making prescriptions more accessible.

Guidelines for Donating

Matthew 25 Ministries asks that bottle donations arrive sorted by color & type, free of labels and glue, washed, rinsed, and recapped. Bottles should be placed in a clean, resealable bag labeled “Clean Bottles”.

Impact of Donation

Donating empty medicine bottles aids countries that do not have access to medical supplies, making it a meaningful option for anyone wondering what to do with empty pill bottles. Likewise, donations of surplus medications makes prescriptions more affordable for about 8% of Americans who don’t take their medication due to cost-related reasons.


Repurposing Empty Pill Bottles

Depending on how many you have, you may find it more convenient to repurpose your medication bottles around your home. Repurposing is a great way to reduce waste while providing functional solutions to everyday problems.

Reusing Empty Medicine Bottles

Before they are reused, pill bottles can be decorated using paint, washi tape, and alike. Creative examples of what to do with empty pill bottles include: 

  • First aid kits: bandaids, tissues, etc.
  • Doggie bag holders (add a keychain or carabiner for easy transport)
  • Storage for jewelry and hair accessories, like earrings, bobby pins, or hair ties
  • Craft containers: sewing kits, button holder, glitter or sequin container, paint/makeup brush holder, excess paint storage
  • Electronic & appliance storage: batteries, phone chargers, headphones
  • Portable travel essentials: cotton swabs, floss sticks
  • Storage for nails, screws, and bolts
  • Containers for plantable seeds or seedlings
  • Coin & cash holder

For more, explore our Pinterest board.

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Upcycling Medication Bottles

Upcycling consists of turning an existing product into a new one of higher value or quality. This can also refer to artistic value. Examples include:

  • Light features
  • Art installations
  • Melting down the plastic into filaments for 3D printers

Where Can I Buy Empty Pill Bottles or Medicine Bottles?

The Cary Company sells a wide variety of pill and supplement bottles for pharmaceutical and nutraceutical applications. From vitamins to prescription medication, Cary has the containers for your style, closure, capacity, and color needs.

Have any questions? Contact one of our product specialists available to answer any questions and recommend products for you. – Call us at 630.629.6600 or email us at sales@thecarycompany.com.