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Where to recycle your medication containers
Recycle

Where to recycle your medication containers

Here’s where you can recycle your old pill bottles, inhalers, and blister packs

Disposing of unused medications is already a hassle, but recycling the containers your meds came in can be even worse. However, if you’re up to the challenge, there are several options available.  

Get rid of any leftover medications 

Before you do anything with that packaging, be sure to dispose of any remaining, unused pills, capsules, creams, or liquids. Your best option for all medications is to take them to a local drug collection site for safe disposal. Most pharmacies have a drop-off site, though they may differ in what types of medicine they will accept. If you’re unsure, give them a call before heading over. Some programs require the medication to be in its original packaging or a plastic bottle or Ziploc bag before being placed in the drop-off container, so you may not need to worry about recycling the packaging yourself. 

If you can’t drop off your meds, most can be thrown in the trash. The FDA recommends filling a plastic bag with soil, coffee grounds, or some other foul-tasting substance and placing the medication inside (leave any pills intact instead of crushing them) before throwing them away to ensure that no children, pets, or wildlife accidentally ingest them.  

There are several medications that should never be thrown in the trash. The FDA’s “flush list” list consists of controlled substances with high abuse potential such as opioids and benzodiazepines. If you are trying to dispose of a medication on this list, do not throw it away. Drug take-back programs are designed to help you dispose of these substances safely, so your best bet is always to take your medications to a pharmacy or local collection event.  

The FDA recommends flushing medications on this list if you can’t bring them to a collection site, but they can cause harm to local wildlife as they leech into our watershed. Unfortunately, because flushing drugs has become common practice (even for over-the-counter meds), traces of common medications such as acetaminophen, hormones, and antibiotics have been observed in over 80% of waterways in the United States. Not only can these drugs be harmful on their own, but the effects of combining many different drugs are also unknown and could be extremely harmful or even fatal to wildlife. The best option is always to bring your drugs to a take-back site. 

Where to recycle your pill bottles

Standard, orange pill bottles are made of number 5 plastic, so theoretically they should be easy to recycle. However, the reality is that these bottles are often too small for the sorting machines at recycling facilities. If they are small enough to fall through the holes in the machines, they will end up in the landfill anyway.  

However, some facilities are equipped to recycle these containers. If you’re already headed to drop off unused pills at your pharmacy, you’re in luck — many large pharmacy chains, such as CVS and Walgreens, allow you to drop off your empty bottles for recycling as well. Be sure to call ahead, as not all locations will accept recyclables. Remove the labels on your bottles to make recycling easier. 

If you’d prefer to mail in your pill bottles, you can send them to Matthew 25 Ministries, which offers a pill bottle donation program. Follow the instructions for cleaning and packaging on their website and ship them off to be recycled or used to transfer medical supplies to developing countries.  

Recycle your blister packs 

Recycling blister packs is significantly trickier than pill bottles, but it is definitely possible. Blister packs, which are made of recyclable rigid plastics, should theoretically be possible to toss in your curbside bin. However, the realities are much more challenging. Most packs contain a variety of other materials, including aluminum and even paper. Your best bet is to remove the backing from the plastic portion of the pack and place the plastic in your regular home recycling bin. 

If you’re trying to recycle a contact lens blister pack, Bausch and Lomb’s program through Terracycle accepts all brands of contact lenses and their blister packaging. There are drop-off locations throughout Philly — check their website to see a map of all locations. 

How to recycle inhalers 

Inhalers are surprisingly difficult to dispose of. They can be dangerous to throw away because their pressurized component runs the risk of exploding in an incinerator. However, recycling can also be tough because they contain a variety of materials that are hard to separate by hand.  

Walgreens currently accepts inhalers through their take-back program, but CVS does not. However, pharmacies’ program rules change frequently, so it may be wise to call ahead and see if your location is accepting inhalers at the moment.   

Cover image courtesy of Pixabay


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Sophie Brous
Sophie Brous is an editorial intern at Green Philly. Born and raised in NYC, she now attends Haverford College, where she majors in linguistics. When she's not writing, she can be found exploring cities, making arts and crafts, and finding ways to live a greener lifestyle. View all posts by Sophie Brous

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