How can I reuse or recycle plastic pill and vitamin bottles?

pill_bottles.jpgWe’ve had an email from Aleta asking for ideas on how to reuse or recycle plastic prescription tablet and vitamin bottles/containers.

They’re usually so sturdy – and usually childproof – that ways to reuse them would be best but can they be recycled? I can’t see a number on the bottom of any of few we have lying around here – does anyone know what type of plastic they are?

Also, does anyone know if there are any schemes to reuse bottles as medicine/prescription bottles again (after sterilising or whatever)?

(Photo by Carin)

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107 Responses to “How can I reuse or recycle plastic pill and vitamin bottles?”

  1. Hannah Phillips says:

    I use them to store herbs that I buy for herbal medicine. It keeps them out of the way of my kids and helps them to treat herbs and plants with respect because they can see them ass medicines.

  2. Trish says:

    Use them for keeping vitamins etc on vacations, then you won’t have to take the whole bottle. Remember though, you’re not supposed to mix prescriptions in different bottles, you can be arrested/ticketed until it can be proven that all the meds are prescribed to you. At least in the states…

    use them for storage of beads, small screws, etc.

    we’ve been remodeling our house, you can match paint if you have old paint chips. We have labeled bottles what room the chips are from and keep the chips we’ve pulled so we don’t have to keep taking samples.

    Use for anything small you need to keep dry.

    use to store your earrings and other jewelry while on vacation.

    since they’re child-proof they can be used to keep items you want to keep away from children.

  3. Kayleigh says:

    Give them to your kids with other artsy things and see what they can create, make sure you hang it on the fridge! LOL

  4. Trish says:

    If you do give them to kids, you might want to make sure they’re old enough to know which bottles are toys and which ones aren’t.

  5. Rosalind says:

    I believe the PDSA (People’s Dispensary For Sick Animals) takes them to reuse for vetinary medicines.

  6. Connie says:

    I found the following address on line with a note that empty, clean pill bottles are collected for impoverished countries which cannot afford the cost.


    [edit by Louisa@RecycleThis: I’ve removed the address as they’re no longer collecting the bottles]

    • DramaMama says:

      I second that – I know a missionary who takes them to Africa. Not sure of the contact info – we’re in WI, USA so if any wants it, let me know.

      • Carole says:

        I’d like to know. I knew some missionaries who used them in Liberia years ago, but have lost contact.

      • -theresa* says:

        hello, could i get contact info! thanks

      • Bill Lawson says:

        Our churches have been collecting them, and we’d like them to be put to a good use if you know where they would be needed.


      • Anonymous says:

        I would like to get more information. I want to recycle
        these medicine bottles to a country that can benefit from
        it’s use. Bebe

    • Tony says:

      I am trying to establish a ministry at my church that would collect medicine pill containers to help the people in Africa and other developing countries.

      If you have additional information as to what organizations are doing something like this.

      Thank you.

  7. tammy says:

    i truely belive that if theese viles were to be collected by one who truely belived that they could make a differance in how full the land fills are , maybe somehow there could be a return adress at no cost or perhaps taken back to the pharmacey to hold refills .granted there would have to be some law evoked to be sure the meds are going to whom they are perscibed. any ideas would be greatley welcomed. email ideas thanks lets make a differnce.

  8. Aneise says:

    I have a number 5 on the bottom of my Walgreens bottles.

  9. Bobbie says:

    From what I understand about the “recycle” number. The number denotes the type of plastic it is manufactured from. Some types are recyclable and some are not. I am told that 1’s and 2’s are recyclable. Anything else is not. All the more to reason to reuse when you can.

  10. Missus G says:

    Fold plastic grocery bags very small, put them in a vial and keep in a purse or glove compartment of your car (I’m in the US so hope I’m using the right terminology) You have a bag in case of an unanticipated need, or can kneel on one if you need to change a tire (tyre?). The tight fitting lid lets you really pack them down – I can get 3 in the smallest bottle. I also put one my cloth bag when marketing in case I buy more than planned or an item is very wet/messy.

  11. Sue says:

    I have used the tops for making cute little pincushions in different designs like flower pots, crowns, and the rest of the bottle can be used when labels removed for childrens games like bottle toss or roll.

  12. Linda Rhoades says:

    I use old pill bottles to store red hots in in my husband’s lunch bucket as he is a diabetic.

  13. LadyK says:

    I use my old med. bottles to keep granola bars and snacks in. It keeps the bars from getting crushed in my purse or backpack. We have also stored used hypo. needles in them. A family member is diabetic and this is a safe way to collect the needles for transport and disposal.

    • Michael says:

      My son is diabetic and I also have the test strip’s plastic bottles. I want to recycle and donate funds and idea’s?

  14. Margaret says:

    Use these old bottles to make christmas ordiments. My grandmother showed me how many years ago. It’s something you can do with your children as well. The perfect snowy or rainy day project.

    • Deana Ann Mondy says:

      Can you tell me more about this craft idea?

    • Diane says:

      Would you mind writing me about these crafts? I have a ton of bottles between my mother and my dogs. I work with children, and these ideas would be great for me.

  15. Isabel says:

    Fill with change for tolls, snacks or phone calls. They fit easily in the car or in a backpack.

  16. pat says:

    I cut a small hole in the caps and fill them with kitty kibble as a toy for my cat. I often hide several of them around the house so he can “hunt”.

    • Meloney says:

      This idea reall made me perk up. I have an entire drawer full of pill bottles that I have no clue what to do with. My cat will be very busy now haha

  17. Judith says:

    LOVE the garbage bag suggestion, reminded me of those tiny plastic bonnets in tiny barbie sized purses my grandma used to get from the hairdresser. I use mine for laundry quarters, but am scouting other uses/recycle too.

    Regarding mixing meds in one vial–I peel off the labels and stick on one sheet of paper, photocopy, carry in wallet, ICE. Also proof I’m prescribed I guess.

  18. Judith says:

    OK, right now I’m making a tiny first aid kit, a bandaid, an alcohol wipe, a capsule of vitamin e or first aid cream.

    See how creative a person can get when she’s supposed to be decluttering?

  19. Judith says:

    One more. Ever burned one finger while you are cooking and had a terrible time keeping ice on it while you finish what you are doing? Fill small pill bottle with crushed ice, put finger in plastic wrap, wrapped finger in crushed ice pill vial, wrap base with paper towels and plastic wrap, and you have the clumsy use of your burned hand. The other day I was going crazy trying to think of something just that size…

  20. Judith says:

    I can’t stop. I filled a small one with aloe vera gel, labeled it “burn care” and put it in the fridge. Next burnt finger, I’ll still in the cold gel, wrap it up, and see how it goes.

  21. Catherine says:

    Judith’s ideas gave me one to make small ice packs that would fit in a lunch pail.Just fill part way with water and freeze!

  22. chez says:

    I use them to take fresh milk to work, can’t stand that uht stuff they supply!!

    Also instant coffee granules for picnics.

    When my daughter was small I filled some with sand/water hung them on a cord and she used them as a musical instrument!

    Small pieces from childrens games can be safely stored in them.

  23. Kayla says:

    You can screw/nail the caps to the beams on the ceiling of your garage and fill the labled containers with odds and ends for easy storage. I do this with baby food jars, but I’m sure pill bottles would work just fine.

  24. louisa says:

    Check out this awesome Christmas wreath made out of old prescription bottles by the wonderfully talented Ms Precarious Tomato.

  25. Marie says:

    We have been selling our pill-vial art for the past 2 years. We make lamp shades, trays, bowls, crosses, wall deco, jewelery, little tables…
    If you are curious to see what we do with pill-vials, email-us personnally @ and we’ll send you pics.

  26. angela says:

    Don’t know if this will work with the newer bottles, but about 35 years ago I used to put them one at a time on an aluminum pie pan in the oven and melt them flat. Then used a heated in a candle flame needle to poke a hole. Then made wind chimes with them. The bottles then seemed to be harder, but it might still work. Keep the room ventilated in case of fumes.

  27. Shorty says:

    I make costume jewelry and my younger brother loves playing with the beads, so I use the containers with the childproof lids to store my beads. They are the perfect size and store so well, and since they’re clear I can more or less know at a glance which beads they are as long as i write the color on the outside.

  28. Sandy says:

    I use these bottles for my coin collection. There are bottle sizes for almost every coin size from dimes to half dollars.
    I also take bottles I don’t need and give them to my local veterinarian office as they can always use them.

  29. BmushroomB says:

    I use them for many things. Mainly sweets, pins & earrings :)

  30. kitschkitty says:

    Some great ideas in this thread! I’ve always been stumped, as the bottles I have are all brown, and some are big round ones, other are smaller with flat sides.
    I store all my beads in clear containers as I need to be able to easily see them, so that’s out, but I love the pet toy idea (buying those is expensive, and the lid would make them so much easier to refill) and mini icepack etc!
    I think if I had the small tub/vial shaped ones I could come up with a lot more uses!

  31. Bether says:

    Pill bottles are great to store nails, screws, bolts, etc. You can glue one to the cap if you have opaque bottles. Years ago, I knew someone who glued a bunch of caps to a board and the underside of a work bench to store the screws, washers, etc. Just screw bottle back onto the cap. Could do the same with spices.

  32. R'cyclin' Riki says:

    I use the large cylindrical ones to keep my lip sticks in. I can fit 6 or 7 – perfect. (my lipstics are long and cylindrical, not the short fat ones, though I suppose that could work w/dlifferent size pill bottle.

    I use them also for change in my car. Can never get my fat fingers into the recess the car mfger alots for change.

    I read somewhere you can boil them to sterilize, take the cap off, fill with your favorite juice (or juice w/fruit) to freeze as popsicles. Place 2 rubber-bands in a cross and slide in a popcicle stick. Allow to freeze and…yum! I’m going to try it this summer with lo-cal stuff.

    I’m an artist also, so they are invaluable for keeping colored pencils, markers, paperclips, etc. Am currently researching how to make a chandelier with them, as when lit, they give off the most beautiful amber light.

    Also, PLEASE don’t ask your pharmacist for brand new ones to use. That’s the whole point of this, to reuse. Tell him you would like some,and he might be able to make it aware to his patrons. Thanks, and LOVE all your ideas!!!

  33. pipsqueak says:

    I have an impossible, hopeless dream that I don’t think will ever come true, but I can’t help wishing and hoping for it nevertheless……..
    We’ve got millions and millions, maybe over a billion of these empty pill
    bottles and they are STRONG, with a secure lid, and the sensible thing
    to do is discover a sustainable way to repurpose the used ones. My dream is that every smoker decides to carry one and use it to store their cigg butts in it untill they can get to a proper trash can. Maybe one forrest fire will be prevented. Maybe the beach won’t look like a giant ash tray. Maybe someday people will realize that their momma is not following them around everywhere to pick up their trail of litter. Maybe someday people will realize that nature is beautiful and the planet is not just one big trash can. Maybe “taking responsibility for one’s own actions” will feel natural and be automatic. Dream on……
    Einstein once said: “Only two things are infinite; the Universe, and
    Mankind’s stupidity……and I’m not real sure about the former”.

    • ciaobella says:

      Brilliant idea! It hurts to see these cigg butts everywhere when I’m on my walks, on the beach, trails, anywhere, actually! I pick up what I can, but yeah, “taking responsibility for one’s own actions” would go a long way in cleaning up this planet. Baby steps!

  34. Deb Boehne says:

    I just posted a question to the CVS Pharmacy website challenging them to come up with a way we can re-use the plastic pill bottles for refills! I asked if they would consider putting refills in small paper envelopes that can be recycled and allow the consumer to place the pills from the envelope into the pill bottle. I’m hoping for a good response!! My husband and I have come to a stopping point regarding keeping them; I think we have enough to fill our large basement. I’ve most recently been forced to throw them away!

  35. I have seen thew mose amaging rattles / music rhythm makers made by a west African man. He first puts in one or several beans, or corn, or pebbles…each will sound different….you could get a whole classroom to make these.

    Next, using diluted watered down glue he paper maches over the entire pill bottle with colored tissue paper. I would imaged the leftover holiday wrapping papers or newspaper could be used also, but tissue paper is thin and works easily.

    Then, when its dry, he takes a sharpie marker, or paint and decorated the outer surface with designs. They are absolutely awesome. They sound awesome. I was lucky to be in an art gallery opening night, when his band of drummers and shakers played these artful objects. A child or an adult would have a blast making and shaking these.

    • tammy gary says:

      I taught a class at a Daycare and had several I filled with different items, sand, buttons, and other things around the house. I glued the tops well and they really enjoyed the shakers, you could add stickers and decorate. I just kept in a basket of noise makers made from found items. They especially loved small tins filled with things that rattled ;)

  36. Jessie says:

    I crochet and sew. For a long time I have been wondering how I can make a toy that rattles and is safe for children. Sticking christmas jingle bells inside would be hazardous (jagged metal, choking hazard and rust issues).
    This page has inspired me!!! I can put a few plastic beads inside an old childproof pill bottle and put that inside the toy with lots of stuffing surrounding it… yay!!! That would work!

  37. Marie says:

    Hi everyone. I am the one who wrote to you about my pill-vials art 2 years ago (read above). And I have received many personal responses asking me about my work. I want to update you: I am now exposing my work in an Art Galerie in Montreal:

    I also have been asked by the Ministry of Environment of Canada to do be part of a major project where my Art piece will expose the dangers of medicine being thrown in our waters:

    My work will also be featured in a big Canada Art Event in November. It has appeared on television 3 times and on varied medias.

    I am truly blessed and am always looking for unwanted pill vials (donations only sorry).

    Thank you for all of you interested in my work.

    • Sue says:

      Hi Marie,

      I’d love to know how to donate plastic pill bottles to you. I use the clear ones but have coloured ones that I keep because I can’t figure out what to do with them. I live in Ottawa and am pretty sure I could get others to donate if it’s not too difficult. Please let me know. Thanks.

  38. LadyWillow says:

    Whole Foods Stores now accept all #5 plastics including Prescription bottles. /;)

  39. LadyWillow, i am currently doing some research into this notion….there are big store chains both accepting plastic bags, and now pill bottles. however, I have heard that they just dump into landfills anyways. it makes me mad that stores build up this idea of trust and confidence like this, and secretly just toss the collections out.

    So, until I find out for sure (at least in my region of the USA…Chicago, I am not believing the plastic is truly getting recycled. Walgreens is a huge chain of drug stores in the USA, and they “collect” the pill bottles also…but they DO throw them out as garbage.

  40. Walgreens says they ” throw them all out” because of “the labels on them and to respect anonymity of patient customers.”

    • Anonymous says:

      But surely the labels can be soaked or steamed off? If a person is willing to donate their medicine bottles for re-use then surely they accept that people will take a look at the label (if it hasn’t already been removed), and what is there to be ashamed of anyway??? I have medical issues and all my friends and family are very supportive of the drugs I need to take. Lets be brave and reduce / re-use / recycle!!!

  41. I agree, the labels could be removed easily enough. thats why I was shocked that Walgreens currently throws them out.

    I did find out from the Solid Waste Agency of Northern Cook County (SWANCC) this morning that there is no recycling programs for plastic medicine bottles. None whatsoever and not only for my area of Chicago and Illinois, USA. It seems to be this way everywhere in the USA.

    However I heard that plastic bags are collected and sent to China, where they are recycled. This is different then I had thought. Will continue to do research on all of this.

  42. @marie. Well done all looks great. – removing the music might help keep the peace loving types on the site a bit longer.

    Sorry but the “new age jazz attack” was too much for me. Sorry if I’m using the wrong terminology.

  43. dave says:

    i used medicine bottles & film containers for my radio controlled cars parts for little screws/nuts etc. Label with a piece of tape.

  44. tanya weaver says:

    If anyone wants to recycle/reuse empty medicine bottles, please send them to the American Foundation for Children with AIDS ( We wash them and send them to hospitals in Africa.

    You can send them to:

    [address deleted]

    Thank you!


    [RECYCLE THIS edit: AFCA have told us they’re no longer collecting bottles so I’ve deleted the address]

    • teri says:


      Finally I can put all these saved pill bottles to good use!! Thank you for what you are doing :o)

  45. Bertiewhite says:

    Keep seeds in them. I assume the bottles are air/water tight so would be ideal for this purpose

    • judi says:

      Use them as seed starter pots, put hole in bottom, fill with dirt and a few seeds and label the outside with magic marker.
      Great project for kids too.

  46. Colmat says:

    I am most impressed with interest shown in the recycling of vitamin/pill bottles as it has bothered me for a long time. Surely pharmaceutical companies should be held responsible for this. Is there any reason why they do not use plastic which CAN be recycled.

  47. excuzzzeme says:

    After reading all the ideas you have thankfully created an acceptable idea of how I can repurpose all these bottles! I take 26 pills a day and needless to say, I have quite a collection of bottles saved up. I have been depressed about the waste they generate and now a light comes on!

    I get free scrap lumber from lumberyards that is being tossed. With the bottles and the free wood, I can make dollhouse/miniature furniture with them!!! I have a scroll saw so I can cut them many different ways to accomplish special items!

    Thank you for the great ideas!

  48. chez says:

    Use to store, elastic bands, put a few round the outside too, then you know whats inside!
    Also, I use them to keep budgie seed in, as the cardboard boxes that I buy don’t re-seal.
    Make sure they seal well, and use them for taking milk on picnics, to work etc.
    Cut the screw threads off the top and use as a small flower vase on the kitchen window sill, paint with left over emulsion paint or draw patterns on with CD pens.

  49. judi says:

    I been reading all your recycle ideas and they are super awesome.
    If anyone would be willing to part with them…I am in need of 14 PM10 or 14 PM20
    The 10 or 20 is shown on the bottom of the bottle.
    I know I can ask the Drug Store for these and they will give them to me with no problem but I thought it better to look for recycling ideas.

    Here is what I am using them for. I take a multitude of vitamins and medications twice a day(approx 24 pills total a day). It takes much time to go through each bottle even once a day to sort out medication.
    So, currently I am using pill bottles but they are PM5 and are to small…I make up two bottles for each day. The tops are labels MonAM
    MonPM, TuesAM TuesPM and so on. I have a little basket I keep them in in order. Makes my life alot simpler. Then I don’t forget if I took them or not. If the bottle is empty, then I did.

    So if anyone has 14 of the same size either 10 or 20 I would be willing to pay the shipping. Just email me at
    Thanks a bunch

  50. Sheri says:

    I liked a lot of the ideas. I was thinking of combining at least two into one project. I like to sew. Making a pincushion with the top of the bottle and storing needles inside sounds like fun! Also, all those percussion instrument ideas. I have a lot of the smallest bottles. The only reason it is as big as it is is to hold the label. The pills only take up half an inch on the bottom of the bottle.

    The powdered drink ideas were good! The small first aid kit would work if my bottles were bigger. I take chocolate chips with me to work in the bottles. I used to send my husbands supplements to work with him in the bottles. I wonder if I could stack my sewing machine bobbins in a bottle? That would keep them from getting tangled! For travelling, I put my necklace in a bottle. Around here in the summer, chapsticks melt. I wonder if putting them in a small bottle would be enough insulation to keep them from melting?

    I like making my own lotions and oils. That seams to be the right size for a sample of lotion! Bead kits for bracelets?

    Thank you for all the ideas that are leading to more ideas! I’m going to have fun with my medicine bottles!

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