How to reuse pill bottles

Photo by Sam Schipani

Plastic seems inevitable in some aspects of our lives. For those of us with daily medication — according to a 2013 study conducted by the Mayo Clinic, that includes 70 percent of Americans — those plastic prescription pill bottles can pile up over time. There are some options to reduce the number that you accumulate, but you can also reuse pill bottles in handy ways around the home.

The first step in the three R’s is to reduce. You can try to reduce the number of pill bottles you get by asking your doctor for a three-month prescription instead of the standard one-month supply. 

Some organizations even reuse plastic medication bottles. Check with local animal shelters, veterinarians, free clinics and homeless shelters. Some charitable organizations will take empty prescription bottles and use them for prescriptions for the less fortunate or even undeveloped countries. 

You also may be able to recycle your old prescription bottles. Most prescription bottles are made of #5 polypropylene plastic. Some curbside recycling programs may accept prescription bottles, but you will have to check with your local recycling provider. The company Preserve recycles all #5 plastics and has drop-off centers in Whole Foods locations nationwide. You can even mail your #5 plastics to Preserve for recycling.

Before you jump to get rid of your piles of pill bottles, though, here are 14 ways you can reuse pill bottles to serve a new function in your daily life.

Spare key concealer

Hiding your spare key under a mat or a garden gnome is hardly secretive or secure. Instead, glue a distinctive rock to the top of a pill bottle, put a key in it and bury it in your garden or elsewhere in your yard for the next time you accidentally lock yourself out of your house or apartment. 

Travel-size toiletries

Instead of purchasing single-use mini bottles of shampoo and soap, save those pill bottles to reuse as travel-size storage. The bottles are generally less than the 3-ounce airline restrictions for carry-ons, easy to store and do not leak, which makes them perfect for traveling sustainably. 

Mini ice-pack

Simply fill your empty prescription pill bottles with water and freeze. The tiny ice packs are perfect for chilling lunch boxes or soothing rolled ankles. 

Salt and pepper shaker

For a funky, mod aesthetic, drill a few holes in the top of an empty prescription pill bottle and fill with salt, pepper or your other favorite spice. 


Scoop petroleum jelly into a plastic bag, fill the bag with cotton balls and knead until they are soaked with goo. Pack the cotton balls tightly into the prescription pill bottle and bring it on your next camping trip.

The cotton ball serves as a wick to carry the fire and the petroleum jelly is the burn agent. With a few sparks from a lighter, you will have your campfire roaring in no time. Unlike natural firestarters like dry brush, this firestarter is also waterproof and fairly windproof.

Portable sewing kit

Photo by Sam Schipani

Learning how to mend your clothes will help reduce the environmental impact of your wardrobe. You can keep a needle, pins, a thimble and a spool thread in a prescription pill bottle in your bag for quick fixes on the go. Drill a hole in the lid and pull the thread through for easy use.

Survival kit

Having an emergency survival kit on the go is a comforting safety net for hiking, camping or spending time off the grid. This article from Birchbox shows you all the potentially life-saving tools you can fit in a single pill bottle with a little creative packing. Keep it in your backpack for emergencies.

Center-pull yarn ball

If you have piles of unwound yarn, stacks of empty pill bottles and a knitting habit that is being squandered by tangled yarn, you can organize your loose threads around a pill bottle to make an easy-to-use yarn ball with a center-pull. Follow these instructions from I Always Pick the Thimble to organize your craft clutter and upcycle your unused plastics.

Seed saving containers

If you have decided to save seeds from your harvest this year, use a clean, dry pill bottle to store them for next season. Though plastic is not necessarily the ideal seed saving medium, pill bottles are sanitary, easy to label and provide an airtight defense against moisture (as long as they are dry to begin with). Place them in your refrigerator for ideal storage conditions. 

Coin holder

You can store those quarters for laundry day in an empty pill bottle and plop the portable container atop your dirty clothes on the way to the laundromat. 

Earbud container

Keep your earbuds from getting tangled by coiling them in an empty pill bottle. The container is light, easy to spot in a dark purse and keeps those cords from mingling with the clutter in your bag. 

Knick-knack storage

Pill bottles are great to store a number of small, loose objects. In the bathroom, use them to store bobby pins, hair ties, earrings, cotton swabs and cotton balls. In your craft room, you can keep push pins, erasers, paper clips, safety pins and buttons in pill bottles. Pill bottles are also great to store batteries, screws, drill bits, nails, nuts, bolts and matches in your tool shed. You can even keep track of tiny board game parts by putting them in pill bottles before you return them to the box.

Grow magnet

Photo by Sam Schipani

This home decor upcycling craft takes container gardening to a whole new level. Upcycling your prescription pill bottles into a cute magnet for an itty bitty seedling. 


  • Prescription pill bottle, label removed
  • Glue
  • Cotton balls
  • Potting soil
  • Seeds
  • Water


  1. Remove the top of a pill bottle and glue a magnetic strip to it. Let dry. 
  2. Place two cotton balls in a pill bottle. 
  3. Sprinkle a little water onto the cotton balls. 
  4. Place a few flower or vegetable seeds (beans work well) onto the damp cotton balls. 
  5. Fill with soil and sprinkle with a little more water. 
  6. Add the magnet to your refrigerator collection. 
  7. Water lightly every few days and watch your seedling grow.

How do you upcycle your old pill bottles? Add your favorite tips to the comments below.

1 comment
  1. Donna Coffin says

    People with insects to be identified use their old pill bottles to bring them into the UMaine Extension office.

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