How to Recycle Medication Packages: A Step-by-Step Guide

How to Recycle Medication Packages: A Step-by-Step Guide

Medication packaging protects the pharmaceutical product against sunlight, oxygen, moisture, delivery damage and even microbes. But how to recycle medication packages when you're done with them? Let's find out.

What Is Medication Packaging Made Of?

Besides glass and metal, medication packaging is usually made of polyethylene terephthalate (PET) or polyvinyl chloride (PVC). These are durable plastics that can withstand temperatures of up to 115°C / 240°F. Most drug manufacturers use them to protect drugs during the supply chain and to store the finished product at room temperature.

Polyethylene terephthalate (PET) is a highly durable plastic. It’s touted as the safest material available in the food-processing industry. It’s also used to make soft drink bottles, water bottles, and other plastic packaging. PET is a relatively new material, first introduced in the 1950s. It’s non-toxic and acid-resistant, so it can last for hundreds of years without deteriorating. This also means it is important to recycle PET responsibly.

Polyvinyl chloride (PVC) is a cheap, yet chemical-intensive, plastic. It’s used in the food and pharmaceutical industries, as well as for water, gas, and electric transmission lines.

While PET is non-toxic and acid-resistant, PVC is not. It’s highly flammable and will burn easily if exposed to high temperatures.

How To Recycle Medication Packages

Here are the most common medication packaging types and their recycling methods:

  • Blister packages - If the blister has plastic and aluminium, you can put the empties in the plastic waste bin. However if the plastic is PVC, it should go to mixed waste. If the entire blister is made of aluminium, the correct destination is metal waste.
Updated, June 2023: In some countries, packages with PVC can go to the plastic waste bin. Contact your local authorities for specific local rules concerning the plastic waste management. 
  • Bottles - Glass and plastic bottles come in many sizes, shapes, and colours. They are usually used for liquids—such as painkillers and ointments. Recycle empty bottles with glass waste.
  • Caps - These come in many forms, including metal and plastic. Plastic caps are recycled with plastic waste and metal caps with metal waste.
  • Pouches/satchels - These come in paper and are usually disposed of with mixed household waste.
  • Syringes - Syringes or needles often contain metal and plastic parts. The plastic parts can be recycled with plastic waste, but any sharp needles should generally not be recycled with household waste, but be taken to dedicated gathering stations. Your healthcare professional may have also given you a special bin with more detailed instructions.

In most countries the medication packaging itself should also contain information about the appropriate recycling method. The information however might be difficult to find or be written in very small text.

How To Recycle Medication

The best way to reduce medication waste is to take your doses as prescribed. If for some reason you do not need to take all the prescribed doses, you can take your medication containers to a pharmacy that accepts expired medications. These stores may have a drop-off box where you can drop off your containers for recycling.

Before you put your containers in the recycling bin or container, make sure that you take off any labels or stickers that may be stuck to the containers’ surfaces. Some drop-off locations will accept crushed or crumbled containers too.

Final Words: Tips for Reducing Your Medicine Waste

Most people don’t realize how much medication waste they create. It’s easy to forget that all of your medication blisters and bottles can add up over time. For example the average American adult takes eight medications daily. That’s a lot of potential waste. With that in mind, here are some ways you can reduce your medicine waste:

  • Always take your medications as prescribed.
  • Separate your medication from other items when you bring it home.
  • Dispose of used medications and their packacing properly.
  • Consider adding a reminder on your smartphone - Or if you want something that automatically keeps you on track, try Popit's smart medication tracking solution.


Medication should always be recycled responsibly. It does not belong in landfills or the sewer, where it will cause severe environmental problems.

If you want to be more eco-conscious, recycling your medicine packaging is a great step to take. Whether you recycle it at home or at a drop-off location, you can greatly reduce the amount of waste produced by taking your medication as prescribed.

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