Dear Proper Green,
My cold medicine packaging is made of plastic and foil. Can it be recycled?
-Jessica F., Lansing, MI
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.