Most used prescription pill bottles end up in landfills, but an NC State University student has developed a new type of bottle that can be reused.
Mallory Barrett, a junior industrial design student, won an award in January as part of the Cradle to Cradle Product Design Challenge, a competition that evaluates products made with recyclable materials.
Barrett used computer software to design a reusable, recycled stainless steel prescription drug bottle. Bottle caps, children’s closures and label holders are also made from recyclable materials.
“We can’t just keep using materials and not think about what happens to them after we’re done,” said Barrett, 21. “A lot of companies don’t think about it.”
In 2015, more than 105 billion prescriptions were filled at retail pharmacies in North Carolina, according to the Kaiser Family Foundation.
Many curbside recycling programs do not accept bottles, so they go in the trash. Residents of Raleigh, however, can recycle bottles through curbside pickup or at recycling centers.
Barrett said she was passionate about recycling and reducing the carbon footprint of humans from a young age. She wanted to develop a “circular and holistic” product for the design challenge, which earned her the award for best design student.
“I started to think about the things people use and throw away a lot,” Barrett said. “I immediately thought of prescription vials.”
Starting in October, Barrett spent about six weeks researching, designing and testing the bottles.
She hopes the design will inspire companies to think about what happens to products after they are used. She also hopes that colleges and universities will focus more on the afterlife of products in design programs.
“You have to think about what it’s made of and where it’s going,” Barrett said.
As part of the competition requirements, Barrett had to develop a business plan for her design, which she named REX.
If a company bought the design, which is not patented, the vials would be distributed by pharmacies to customers. After the drug was gone, customers would remove the label for privacy and recycling purposes and return the vial to a drop box at a pharmacy.
Because the bottles could be reused until they were worn out or damaged, fewer bottles would be made, which would lower production costs, Barrett said.
Producing one stainless steel bottle costs roughly the same amount as producing 14 plastic bottles, she said.
Barrett doesn’t have the money to market the product, but she’s willing to sell the design.
After graduating next year, Barrett said, she could try to get the bottle certified by Cradle to Cradle, a non-profit organization that offers certification for products that meet a specific set of criteria.
Since winning the competition, she has received calls from people who are enthusiastic about the design.
“This has raised awareness among locals about regenerative design,” Barrett said, referring to designs that incorporate sustainable materials.
This story was originally published March 24, 2017 10:33 a.m.