Taking recycling into the pharmacy

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Association of Plastic Recyclers The Association of Plastic Recyclers sees value in capturing empty pill bottles from pharmacies.

A plastics recycling group is tackling another stream of material in an effort to boost recovery rates in grocery stores.

The Association of Plastic Recyclers is out with new guidelines to help pharmacies recycle bottles that hold larger qualities of prescription medicines behind the counter.

APR's "How to Recycle Grocery Rigid Plastics" guidebook has been expanded to include a new section on recovery of these stock high density polyethylene bottles and their polypropylene caps.

The new information builds on APR's existing efforts to help grocery stores capture rigid plastics from areas such as bakeries and delis.

"It became apparent to us that in the grocery store pharmacies they also are generating a considerable amount of stock bottles. Not prescription vials. We're talking stock bottles. That's HDPE food grade, white, that can be recycled with their other materials," said Liz Bedard, APR's rigid plastics recycling director.

With existing guidelines in place for other grocery store rigid plastics, she said, "It all made sense as a step two for that project for us to delve a little deeper into recycling stock bottles."

Bedard said pharmacy waste essentially can be divided into two categories: paper and plastic bottles. So developing programs to attack each recyclable can eliminate pharmacy waste.

APR suggests placing two recycling containers in a pharmacy, one for HDPE bottles and one for PP caps. Those recycling containers can be tall and thin and kept in a corner as space can be limited in pharmacies.

"If they want to get the highest and best value for their rigid plastics, segregating the PP from the HDPE is a good way of doing that, separating out the PP caps. And our recommendation would be recycling them with other PP rigids that might be coming out of bakery or deli," Bedard said.

Pharmacies easily can piggyback on existing recycling efforts from other parts of the store, sending bottles and caps back through the supply chain. Many stores already have programs to haul paper, plastics and metals back to distribution centers where they are collected and sent on to recyclers.

APR estimates that a single small pharmacy can save $100 a year by diverting its plastics, and the number jumps to $200 for a medium-sized location. Those numbers can then multiply if an entire chain of locations takes part in a program.

"As we have seen the Recycling Grocery Rigid Plastic program grow to include 32 states, 10 national chains, and 4,500 stores, a Pharmacy Stock Bottle Recycling program was the next logical step," APR Executive Director Steve Alexander said in a statement. "These new resources expand on APR's efforts to enhance the quality and increase the supply of recycled plastics."

Bedard said the pharmacy stock bottle recycling guidelines do not address the smaller vials pharmacies use to dispense prescriptions to individual customers. Those containers, because of health-care privacy laws, become more challenging to recycle.

While APR is out with a new section to its grocery rigid plastics guidelines, the group acknowledged that some companies have been recycling plastic pharmacy bottles for years. Bedard pointed to the Stop & Shop and Hannaford chains in the Northeast.

APR included information about the Stop & Shop program in the group's rigid plastics recycling guidelines that are available at www.recyclegroceryplastics.org.

"Separating stock bottles is easy, takes little space, and makes sense — helping our environment and business," said Christine Gallagher, manager of responsible retailing and healthy living at Stop & Shop in the guidelines.