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Organization finally answers the question of what to do with your old, empty prescription pill bottles

Plastic pill bottles are common and easy to get in the U.S. but much rarer in many other countries.

Matthew 25, old pill bottles

Photo Credit: iStock

Plastic pill bottles are common and easy to get in the U.S. but much rarer in many other countries. For those without access to these convenient containers, it can be difficult to safely store medications. 

Some organizations, like Matthew 25: Ministries, accept donations of used pill bottles, which they distribute to those in need.

How does pill bottle donation work?

Like most organizations accepting these donations, Matthew 25: Ministries is looking specifically for clean, dry, empty bottles with matching, all-plastic lids already screwed on. 

The organization instructs donators to remove the labels and any leftover glue or paper, then thoroughly wash the bottles with soap and hot water before drying and resealing them. Bottles should be sorted by color and size, and delivered in Ziploc bags that are labeled "clean bottles." "Pill bottles that are not appropriate to include with shipments of medical supplies are recycled and may generate revenue that supports Matthew 25: Ministries' programs," its website says.

Why not just recycle your pill bottles?

Plastic pill bottles, like most plastics, are technically recyclable. However, the recycling process is difficult and most facilities aren't set up to accept this material, which is one of the main reasons that only around 5% of plastic waste is actually recycled in the U.S. 

Different types of plastic can't be recycled together, so even centers that process some types are often not equipped for number 5 plastic, which SingleCare identifies as the most common material for pill bottles.

At the same time, pill bottles are incredibly useful and easy to reuse. They're the ideal solution for keeping potentially dangerous medications away from children and protecting them from water and pests. 

According to a Mayo Clinic report from 2013, almost 70% of Americans take at least one prescription medicine. Others around the world face the same health challenges, but many have less access to medical supplies — so they need these discarded bottles. 

Matthew 25: Ministries addresses that need for what it calls, "the poorest of the poor and disaster victims throughout the United States and around the world."

The usefulness of pill bottles combined with the difficulty of recycling them into anything else makes it worthwhile to ship used bottles to other countries. This also keeps them out of landfills and saves recycling centers the trouble of sorting and discarding them.

Are there other options?

Some recycling centers are set up to accept pill bottles, so it's always worthwhile to check with your nearest location about their policies. 

There are also organizations besides Matthew 25: Ministries that accept these donations, such as Clean North. However, many of these organizations are local and cannot accept donations from outside their areas, so look for options near you.

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