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Proper Green: What to Do with Cold Season Cast-Offs

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Popping blister packs to get through cold and flu season has side effects to consider.

Dear Proper Green,

My cold medicine packaging is made of plastic and foil. Can it be recycled?

-Jessica F., Lansing, MI


Dear Jessica,

Those plastic-and-foil packages that encapsulate your medicine are called blister packs, and they're a pharmaceutical industry favorite for keeping medicine safe from tampering (it's obvious to tell when the foil has been broken) while being easy to open. But their commercial benefits don't necessarily translate to an environmental benefit.

For one thing, it is difficult to make a blister pack recycle-ready since the plastic, the foil, and the sealant between the plastic and foil must be separated. Another barrier to recycling is that, while blister packs are widespread, the types of plastic used in the packs vary widely among manufacturers and are rarely indicated on the package. Some use PET (#1), PVC (#3), or mixed varieties (#7) — of these, PET is commonly accepted by recycling communities while the others can be hit-or-miss. Always check with your city or waste hauler to verify which types are accepted. In the end, you'll likely have to find a way to reuse it or toss it in the trash.

If it's medication bottles you're wanting to recycle, check the bottom for the plastic recycling symbol first. The brown or orange bottles are usually #5 plastics. Many over-the-counter medication bottles, the white opaque ones, are HDPE (#2). If your city doesn't accept them for recycling, consider rinsing them out and reusing them. You could make a hide-a-key, or repurpose them into storage containers for loose items such as Q-tips, pins, beads, or buttons.


Packaging Digest
Rethink Waste Deschutes County
Chasing Green

Can you think of other reuses for blister packs or medication bottles? Share your ideas in the comments below!

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Proper Green
Proper Green
Proper Green is Recyclebank's green advice column. From promoting good manners in a green world (because ideas about what constitutes proper behavior and th... more
  • joanna l. 3 years ago
    Check with your city. Ours recycle the plastic pill bottles. Be sure to remove every bit of information from the label.
  • lisa p. 4 years ago
    I used to buy over-the-counter antacid that came in blister packs and then I found both Target and Walmart make the generics and sell them in large enough amounts that you can buy a bottle. Target's brand is Up & Up and Walmart's is Equate. It saved me a lot of money and since it comes in a recyclable plastic bottle, it's a win-win. Wherever you can, buy medicines that don't expire quickly in bottles versus blister packs!
    • joanna l. 3 years ago
      Great solution! Just don't buy meds in blister packs. And you will probably save money by buying the large quantity.
  • Curtis G. 7 years ago
    I am a diabetic. Does anyone know if the foil package the Bayer Breeze 2 test strips come in is recycleable?
    • AmyS@Recyclebank 7 years ago

      Hi Curtis, it looks like those test strips come in blister packs similar to other over-the-counter medicines. That means that it's unlikely they can be recycled because they are "multi-composite material packages"--the plastic, foil, sealant, and paper--which many municipalities do not accept.

  • Frank K. 7 years ago
    And please don't flush or put expired medication in the trash! That can eventually get it into the water supply. Check with your town/city if they have medication collection centers so it is properly disposed of (I think they burn it).
  • Kelly F. 7 years ago
    you can wash the bottle out and it should be fine
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