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

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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:

How to avoid common recycling mistakes.

Recycling at Target

recycling at target

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.

Find out how to recycle bottles and cans for money at Clynk at Hannaford.

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.


  1. A thousand times better to avoid buying plastic. Most of what is put in various recycling bins will never be recycled. If it’s not number 1 or 2, better to reuse somehow or send to landfill. The wrong plastic in the right bin does more harm than good. Leads to uneconomical processing.

  2. I asked about this at our Pharmacy and was told I couldn’t reuse them. As we use 2/mos., I’m getting quite a collection. Not a problem yet, though. I have three girls…and lots of beads to store. 😉

  3. You should find out which plastics your local municipality recycles (our town has a guide). For example, we can recycle #1 and #2. Putting in items that can’t be recycled really messes up the sorting process and discourages companies from taking on recycling. Crazy when you can find out what is can be recycled with a simple phone call or on your town’s website.

    1. My town wouldn’t have a clue what plastics can be put in the recycle bin. I mean someone must, but turns out they are too busy to man the phones directly. Not judging, just a fact. Same goes for the recycling company. My question, which the forgoing article didn’t touch on: why aren’t products such as prescription pills sold in no. 1 or no. 2 bottles. I understand only these two have much chance of actually being recycled.

  4. Not all pharmacies will take the bottles washed or not so we use ours for bulk bin spices. They work great.

  5. I send bottles that people collect for me to a Salvation Army hospital in Africa. You can get addresses of other Salvation Army run hospitals by calling your local Salvation Army. They use the bottles to distribute medicine on the wards.

  6. I have also heard that tossing in every plastic #1 – 7 when the local company only accepts #1 and 2, say, as in my community, is doing more harm than good. So until I can recycle all plastics, I have learned to accept that only some go into the recycle bin at our house.

  7. I’m sure this varies, but where I live when recycling is picked up, if there are too many non-recyclables mixed in, the trash/recycling company just throws the whole lot away. So it really is worth our time and energy to make sure we know exactly what our local companies do and don’t recycle- we could be inadvertently doing more harm than good by throwing everything into the recycling bin.

  8. Interesting article. I never considered by prescription bottles as recyclable.

    So if you throw a #5 plastic in your recycle bin when you are not suppose to, does the garbage company have a way to sort those out? If there are seven different types of plastic I would assume they have machine that can separate them?

    1. no they don’t. an earlier commenter is correct, you do more harm than good. Reusable plastic retail bags really mess up the equipment. Great to take to Target, but better to send to the landfill than to put in curbside recycle bins.

  9. I’d like to find out if most pharmacies will take back the bottles for prescription refills. If I get an answer, I’ll post an update.


  10. My first though for anything that size is spice jars (we buy bulk spices and are always looking for small containers in which to store them). However, I’m not sure I’d want to keep spices in plastic, or in something that has had drugs in it. At any rate, #5 plastic is recyclable here, finally, due to our new single-stream program. We can recycle 1-7 now, which is great.

    Taking them back to the pharmacy for refills is a really great idea, too. I’ll have to start doing that.

  11. I am on some permanent prescriptions and my pharmacy will just reuse the containers for my next refill

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