While everyone’s illness is unique, there’s one thing every person with chronic pain has in common – an endless supply of pill bottles.

Many people simply toss them in the trash after they’re empty. But there are actually a number of easy ways to recycle – and considering that per the CDC, nearly half of all Americans have used at least one prescription medication within the last month, this is particularly important.

First of all, check the markings on the bottom of the container and also the guidelines for plastic recycling in your community. Some, but not all, local recycling programs will accept prescription pill bottles. There are also programs such as Preserve’s Gimme 5 ( which collect prescription pill bottles made with #5 plastic. Preserve partners with Whole Foods, so hundreds of their stores accept used pill bottles, or you can mail them to the address on the above website.

Joanna Mechlinski

There are also some pharmacies (primarily small independent ones) which allow patrons to reuse their prescription bottles for refills. Others, such as Walgreens, have kiosks in some states which allow used prescription drop-offs.

Next, you may want to consider donating the containers to an organization who reuses them. There are nonprofits such as Matthew 25: Ministries ( who collect both prescription and over-the-counter pill bottles for use in developing countries, where medication is often distributed in any available container, even a scrap of paper.

Some veterinary clinics and animal shelters may accept pill containers as well.

If for some reason you can’t or don’t want to go with either of these options, there are a myriad of ways you can repurpose the containers! There are loads of blog posts and Pinterest images to get your mind headed in the right direction. Some of the easiest and most commonly listed include:

  • Instead of wasting money on travel-size bottles of shampoo or lotion, pour some from home into old prescription bottles.
  • Tuck a spare key into a larger bottle, glue a rock to the top and stick into the ground. Just be sure you can identify the rock later!
  • If you’re into a creative hobby, these small containers are just the right size to organize beads, cake piping tips or other tiny, easily lost pieces.
  • If you have kids, use containers to keep tiny toys, such as Barbie shoes or Lego accessories, from getting lost.
  • Are you a gardener? Keep seeds in a bottle.
  • Are you into cooking with herbs? Keep them dry and easily identifiable in bottles.
  • Make a mini sewing kit for your purse, car or office! The bottle is just the right size for a few safety pins, needles and lengths of thread.
  • Similarly, you can make a mini first aid kit, with a few bandages, alcohol wipes, ibuprofen and other items.
  • Pill bottles are perfect for various beauty-related needs, such as storing bobby pins.
  • Going camping? These containers are waterproof, so they are great for storing matches.
  • Have a dog? Store your poop bags in a larger container. You can even pierce the lid and add a metal key chain.
  • Instead of letting your spare change rattle around the car’s cupholder, use a pill bottle to keep it tidy. Next time you’re at a drive-thru, you’ll have it right at hand.
  • To keep your earbuds from getting tangled, store them in a bottle.
  • Add some dried beans or rice, and voila! Instant cat toy.
  • Some people suggest using pill containers for small food products, such as salad dressing in a lunch bag. This is not generally advised, as even a well-washed pill container may still retain traces of the original medication, and it may be confusing to young children who see it.

Have you repurposed your prescription pill containers in a different way? Let us know!

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Authored by: Joanna Mechlinski

Joanna Mechlinski is a former newspaper reporter who now works in education. She is a chronic pain sufferer who lives in Connecticut and is a frequent contributor to the National Pain Report. You can follow her on twitter @castlesburning.

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Thank you for the great info… These ideas are very intelligent..thanks … I wish there was a magic 💊 and not a narcotic to take this pain away thank you again


Well these are some great ideas … Thank you for the info.. True that we all got problems w pain I wish there was a magic 💊 strong and not a narcotic


Thanks for this! I really hate tossing these pill containers, and I’ve used my fill on crafts… hadn’t thought of seeds… duh! I’ll do that now. 🙂 I gave them to my independent pharmacy under the mistaken impression they were recycling… apparently they were just tossing them! So I gave that up. Thanks for the links to other options.


Great info, thanks. And to everyone else with there comments & ideas. Thankfully my city has a twice yearly drug takeback program which is helpful when you have so many meds to try before you find one that works. Thanks one and all! And keep up the good fight♡

Thomas Wayne Kidd

More proof of insanity.


I actually saved my bottles as records of prescriptions, doctors and pharmacies. Now I request the logs from PDMP. The VA has accused me of getting drugs from. Clinics I never visited. I keep records not garbage. My output of plastic from milk jugs and bottled ice tea is 10 times the pill bottles. I do like to fill the jugs to explode at the gun range. Anyway, you don’t have to remove the whole label . Just use a knife to scrape off your name and prescription number. There are a lot of better bottles than the ones with annoying push, pinch or squeeze caps.

Maureen Reid-Cunningham

Great ideas, Joanna! Thanks

Very good article . I’m a big recycler . Flushing any medicine down a toilet gets into the water streams which interns a affects wildlife. Even if you have a septic tank you still have a field line that fills up with water and distributes into the ground. Animals that dig in the ground for worms / whatever food the ground is contaminated. I always call pharmacies to see if they have a take back medication system. I do remove my labels if I put them in the take back or when I recycle. Ridiculous being charged because you have empty pill bottles. They’re great for storing many items if you sew or in the garage for extra nails, tidy up drawers if you have extra little paper clips. Arresting a person because they have empty pill bottles that they may want to use not for drugs distribution but a free container for storage use. This is discrimination a different form. You don’t have a right to keep an empty pill bottles? Again being labeled, prosecuted and rights taken away. Ridiculous

Amy Lewis

Robert Schubring I hate the CVS labels as well. To remove the labels we put water in the bottle then place it (without a cap) in the microwave for 30 seconds or so on high. Be careful not to burn yourself with the warm water as you remove the bottle from the microwave. The label removes much easier then.


If you have one of those wands that holds soap to wash dishes $1 wand and 2 of the scrubby top part also $1 dollar tree and others wet the label and a few swipes makes the paper come right off to get your name and the script name anyway at least right off.


Forgot to mention – pill bottles are great for storing nails, screws, etc — tons of tool/hardware items, as well as small office supplies.


Do NOT flush unused pills down the toilet as Glen suggested below.

Rx drugs in the water supply is a serious health issue, and while toilet water goes to sewage treatment treatment plants, there is no guarantee the pills wont’ contaminate future drinking water.

If you don’t return unused pills to a place that takes them, then dump them into your trash — loosely and not in the bottle, and make sure that the pills have really nasty garbage around them.

And of course remove the labels before recycling or re-using any bottles and dispose of them in a way that they can’t be read.

The info on labels is a great source for ID Theft criminals.

and, you don’t want anyone to know you take opioids, as that may make you a target for criminals.


I do re-use pill containers for a lot of things. Paperclips, coins in my car glove box, and more.
I have a box full of empty containers that I haven’t been able to bring myself to recycle. I keep hoping to find uses for them. From time to time, I do find a new use.

I appreciate any pro-environmental suggestions and am glad this was published. This column had a lot of info that I wasn’t aware of.

I’ve known people who have proudly announced that they dont’ recycle, and that sickens me.

Reduce, reuse, recycle. I throw out only things that absolutely must be. I try really hard to find second uses for everything.


Great ideas…My husband is very handy and helps anyone who needs a hand. He uses my old prescription bottles for nails, screws, nuts, bolts, well you get the idea. This helps keep the garage tidy and easy to access for any project.

Gail Honadle

Run them through the Dishwasher. You can put a juice glass or bowl over them to keep them from going to the bottom. It will help take off the label or render it unreadable. Sewing supplies like ribbons can be stored in them.

My biggest issue is what to do with meds that come in multiple bottles as most are 90 day scripts and I react to, the Military Pharmacy won’t take them back not even the unopened ones, even if they are sealed. I don’t want them in my water supply system. I’ve had to dispose of $500 retail meds a handful at a time in the trash. Why can’t they be donated to a Private Health Charity if they are SEALED?


I had a neighbor, who had substance abuse problems. He once complained about my feminine hygiene products… he was going through my trash!!!

If you do discard of or repurpose any bottles, try to take the label off or use a sharpie marker to color over all info on the label. Especially your name, address and what medication.

I had started to discard bottles in the trash at work rather than at home. Sad, but nowadays, paranoia is best. That neighbor got evicted after his “friends” beat him and pistol-whipped him so that they could steal his money and drugs.

I didn’t want to make myself a walking target.

Riteaid was issuing opioids in a bottle with a bright orange lid that said “Opioid” on it! I was shocked… The next time i got my script, it was in a regular bottle, thank goodness…. i worry about people behind me in line knowing what I walk out of the pharmacy with and since my health keeps me from driving, I would be an easy target.

Maureen Mollico

HI Joanna, those are great tips!! Thank you! I am grateful that my community recycles them still. I wash them an soak off the labels and toss them in the bin :). Be well Warrior!

Removing the labels from pill bottles is a good idea when repurposing them. The label has personal information you may want to keep confidential. CVS recently switched from a polybutylene glue that peeled off like a Post-It note, to a starchy glue that makes the labels awkward to remove. I’m boycotting CVS by only filling my Rx’s there and ignoring all the aisles of other [edit] they try to sell me, and others who’ve been able to move their prescriptions elsewhere don’t have this problem but here’s what works for removing those awful CVS labels:
1. Put 10 drops of Dawn dish detergent in a small bowl and fill with water.
2. Soak the pilll bottles overnight in the bowl.
3. Scrape the pulpy wet paper off with a knife and dump in the trash or put it in your compost pile for the garden if you have one.
4. Smear olive oill on the glue layer and let it set 30 minutes. Scrape with a knife and throw in the trash or burn it. Repeat until the surface is tacky to the touch.
5. Smear on 4 drops of olive oil and about 20 drops of Dawn dish detergent and work it in with your fingers. Wash off in the sink. You’ve now turned your personal information into a meal for a few million bacteria and you have a clean pill bottle to reuse for any purpose.


I have been asking myself for years if there is a place I can give RX bottles. Thank you for this article.


Great ideas! I never thought about all those options!

Thank you!!


If your bottles are empty, scrape your personal information off of them and put them in the trash with the rest of your plastic garbage. Good grief, this is almost as bad as the “turn in your unused prescriptions”. Flush them down the toilet. It won’t hurt the poop and no “user” will recover them.

Geoffrey Nielson

Thank you for a local / global look at pill bottles.
I soak, wash, rinse, remove labels and recycle them around the house and shop.
Same for most supplement containers.
Be Recycling!

Be careful. The DEA uses an accumulation of empty pill bottles to charge you with possession with intent to distribute. There was a patient in Florida, Richard Paey, that got 25 years (reduced later) for his own pain meds and one of the causes was his collection of empty bottles. Also, don’t drive around with a full bottle of pills in your car, or have controlled in a bottle with a different name. Same charges apply.

Amy Lewis

The suggestion for Barbie shoes & Legos is growing. Growing up we used the metal bandaid boxes. We use them to organize screws, nails and other fasteners. Also for small office items like paper & binder clips.


Great article, thanks for posting! Like many of us, I have ALOT of script bottles. When they’re empty, I peel off the label & toss them in a paper grocery bag. When I have a couple of full bags, I take them to my local Animal Humane Society. I save my newspapers for them too. I read about their needed items on the AHS website. I’m very passionate about animals & wish I could do so much more for the creatures in need. I’m glad that my chronic illnesses end up benefiting someone! 🙂