If you’ve never heard of pill pack, blister pack, or bubble packs before that’s okay. I had to look up what they were called so I could write about them.
These are the packets that many pills come in. Some of them seem like straight metal/aluminum. Some are an obvious mix of a metal and plastic. They are basically not recycled in America. The metal is coated in plastic and the plastic/metal is a composite and cannot be easily separated. Technically TerraCycle will accept these in their All-in-One box if you want to purchase one of those. If you live in the UK, TerraCycle partners with local pharmacies for drop-off I found out today. I’m super jealous.
I don’t like to encourage TerraCycle if I can help. Yes keeping items out of the landfill is great; however their system adds more cost to the consumer and may encourage the continuation of choices that may have room for improvement. I would rather encourage you to 1) find what you need in bulk, loose or refillable, and 2) purchase containers that are curbside recyclable. Curbside recyclable means there is a bigger market for those materials and therefore they are more likely to be recycled, kept out of the landfill, and turned into another product. Keep in mind that even in this scenario glass and metal are best as they are infinitely recyclable whereas plastic pill bottles are at most recycled for reuse 1-2 times.
Below are some examples of switches you can make if your needs allow. If you have a prescription, you probably have to accept what the pharmacy/insurance issues you. It’s hard enough to find medicine that works and is covered by insurance if you have it. I haven’t even tried to ask a doctor or pharmacy about changing based on the distribution method. Let me know if you have and how that went.
I have allergies and am an asthma sufferer so most of these examples are allergy medication, but you get the idea for whatever you are choosing. I’ll be posting on probiotics in a separate article.
You’ll see above that the flatter boxes tend to have the non-recyclable pill packs while the bottles come in either a more square box or have a window. Yes the window is plastic, but it’s like an envelope window. So while it’s helpful if you take the window out of the box to produce a cleaner paper stream, you don’t have to and can throw the box as-is, flat, in your curbside recycling. Fun fact: Why do we ask boxes to be flattened? 1) It allows more items to be collected in one truck one, 2) the recycling doesn’t pop back out of the hopper as it’s crushed and 3) sorting at the facility is easier, faster and less jammed.
Not to pick on anyone but many of Costco’s pills come in this type of packaging. Almost the entire bottom half of the package is plastic film inside paper, you can feel it. This should not be dropped in the curbside recycling carts as-is. If you can cut off the bottom part where you feel the different mix of materials (paper and plastic film), the paper part can go in the recycling. If you cannot or don’t have time, trash this. I know, I’m sorry as the price usually a great deal, but the packaging leaves much to be desired.
I don’t like to include prices in general as geographic areas change, even within one city. I can’t even remember when I took this photo so please don’t use this pricing for any consideration. That being said, what I want you to look at are the unit costs. For the most part a plastic bottle/a higher quantity of product will be cheaper per item/per unit if you can afford to purchase that size and will use it up before the expiration date. This tip is zero waste both because it can save you money if this works in your life circumstances and you won’t have to throw away unused medicine.
Also, look at the generic and store brand version of medicine. The formula compositions are usually the same, usually cheaper and more often than not come in a plastic bottle, though not always.
If you do have old medicine to dispose of, please do not pour this down the sink or toilet. Please properly dispose of it through either a mail-in envelope available for purchase at any pharmacy counter or through your local prescription drug take back day which occurs each year in April and October.
This fall’s National Prescription Drug Take Back Day is Saturday, October 23, 2021. Find your location to drop-off here. For me these will be mostly constable offices based on my zip code but police stations and local pharmacies sometimes participate too. Just check the tracker to find the closest location to you.