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Proper Green: What to Do with Flu 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.

SOURCES
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... more

  • Curtis G. 2 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 2 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. 2 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. 2 years ago
    you can wash the bottle out and it should be fine
  • Ellen S. 2 years ago
    I would be a little careful about re-use as these are items that we teach children to stay away from. Also, I'm not sure but if I did something like stored mints in it, couldn't the pill product have leeched into the plastic, causing potential contamination of my mints?