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by Margaret Hartley


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Ideas on greener living

A pile of pill bottles

Ever since my husband acquired a few chronic health conditions, we have developed a chronic prescription pill bottle problem.

They keep coming in. The pharmacies won’t refill them, so every month more and more show up at our house.
Of course, they are useful little bottles, straight sided with lids that screw on tightly, and we are lucky enough to receive three different sizes. Or four, or even five some months. They are handy for holding small things, including nails, bolts, screws, hair pins, seeds, fishing hooks or those little gripper things that pop off our ice creepers and need to be put back on.

Our tool boxes and junk drawers are full of the bottles, stripped of their labels and marked with content info with a Sharpie: “okra seeds,” “thumb tacks,” “roofing nails.” The tackle box has a few, the seed drawer has more. There are some in the freezer and spice cabinet, holding caraway seeds and xanthan gum, and in the sewing box, holding pins and buttons.

But I’m pretty sure we have topped the level of pill bottles any one family can use — and that includes a dozen or so surplus bottles being stored in a drawer, just in case we ever run out. And despite a long string of hare-brained schemes and theories, by husband has not yet found a miracle cure for his ailments.

So the medicine keeps on coming in.

The pill bottles are No. 5 plastic, polypropylene, which is not accepted by my town’s curb-side recycling pickup. The city of Schenectady doesn’t take No. 5 either, although some towns in Schenectady County, Rotterdam for instance, do.

I could drive our pill bottle collection down to the Saratoga County facility on County Farm Road in MIlton on my way to work. They accept all plastics No. 1-7, as do most places that have “single stream” recycling — which means no sorting — including the city of Albany and the town of Greenfield Center.

But it seems those bottles could be reused — cleaned and refilled with more pills by pharmacies.

I called four major drug store chains and three of them — CVS, Rite Aid and Walgreens — said it was company policy not to take the containers back for reuse or recycling. A fourth, Kinney Drugs, said that if all identifying information about the patient and the medication was removed, they would take the bottles back to recycle. “We recycle all our plastic,” the pharmacy guy told me.

Of course, the closest Kinney Drug stores are in St. Johnsville and Queensbury and you might be able to find a recycling center that takes No. 5 closer to home. Or give the bottles to someone you know in Albany or Greenfield.

I remember my friend the missionary telling me years ago that medical missions often can use the pill bottles, if the identifying information is removed.

So I checked a with dozen or so medical missions, by website or phone, and found out other people had the same idea before me. The missions all had the same message: Thank you, but we have enough pill bottles and not enough storage space.

“Once upon a time we took them,” the man from Medical Bridges, a Texas-based nonprofit that sends all manner of medical supplies to countries in the developing world. “But no longer.”

I’m not sure if the problem is cleaning drug residue out of the bottles or the fear of winding up with personal information from a label that wasn’t properly removed, but I couldn’t find anyone who would touch a pre-used pill bottle.

And if you are overrun with medical pill bottles, you probably already know they are good for holding toothpicks and those hooks for Christmas tree ornaments. You could use them to hold earrings. You could fill them with little pebbles and use them as maracas for your mariachi band. You could use them as floats for your fishing lines.

You just can’t give them away.

Polypropylene is long-lasting, so it’s too bad those bottles can’t be reused. But it is highly recyclable, if you can find someone to take it. It will probably be reborn as a bottle cap. Or another pill bottle.

Margaret Hartley is the Gazette’s Sunday and features editor. Greenpoint appears in the Gazette’s print edition Sundays on the Environment page.

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