Most used prescription pill bottles end up in landfills, but a student at N.C. State University has come up with a new kind of bottle that can be reused.
Mallory Barrett, a junior studying industrial design, won an award in January through the Cradle to Cradle Product Design Challenge, a contest that evaluates products made with recyclable materials.
Barrett used computer software to design a reusable prescription medication bottle made from recycled stainless steel. The bottle caps, child-lock seals and label holders are also made from recyclable materials.
“We can’t keep using materials and not thinking 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 don’t accept the bottles, so they go in the trash. Raleigh residents, though, can recycle the bottles through curbside pickup or at recycling centers.
Barrett said she has been passionate about recycling and reducing humans’ carbon footprint from an early age. She wanted to develop a “circular, holistic” product for the design challenge, which landed her the best student design award.
“I started thinking about things people use and throw away often,” Barrett said. “I immediately thought of prescription bottles.”
Starting in October, Barrett spent about six weeks researching, designing and testing the bottles.
She hopes her design will prompt companies to consider what happens to products after they are used. She also hopes colleges and universities will focus more on products’ afterlife in design programs.
“You have to think about what it’s made of and where it’s going,” Barrett said.
As part of the contest requirement, Barrett had to come up with a business plan for her design, which she named REX.
If a company were to buy the design, which is not patented, bottles would be distributed by pharmacies to customers. After the medicine is gone, customers would remove the label for privacy and recycling purposes and return the bottle to a drop box at a pharmacy.
Because the bottles could be reused until they were worn or damaged, fewer bottles would be made, lowering productions costs, Barrett said.
Producing one stainless steel bottle costs about the same amount as producing 14 plastic bottles, she said.
Barrett doesn’t have the money to take the product to market, but she is open to selling the design.
After she graduates next year, Barrett said, she might try to get the bottle certified by Cradle to Cradle, a nonprofit that offers certification for products that meet a specific set of criteria.
Since winning the contest, she’s gotten calls from people excited about the design.
“It’s raised local awareness about regenerative design,” said Barrett, referring to designs that incorporate sustainable materials.
Madison Iszler: 919-836-4952; @madisoniszler