Kathy's sculpture is featured
In Fairhaven "Green Art" show

Waste Art

I hate waste! So, when I moved to Bellingham in 1994, I was truly excited to live in what appeared to be the recycling capital of the world. People here don't just recycle -- they precycle.

Did you know Whatcom County often breaks records for the amount of waste it recycles through mandatory curbside programs and voluntary programs?

Even before the city began curbside recycling of plastics in October, I took my plastic seltzer bottles, shampoo containers and other plastic waste to Recomp in Ferndale. I dutifully took my vitamin bottles to the Community Food Co-op in Bellingham.

So why can't I recycle my prescription bottles? It seems such a waste to just trash them.

Now, I can understand a pharmacist's reluctance to use another pharmacy's prescription bottle or to put a medication into a bottle that might have held some other medication. But when I bring in the same bottle to be refilled with the same prescription, why can't the pharmacist re-use my bottle?

"It's against the law," they tell me.

"But my pharmacist in Philadelphia always refilled my prescriptions in the same bottle!"

What law is this?

I had to do some hunting. A little-known section of the federal law covering child-resistant caps on prescription bottles apparently also prohibits the re-use of those bottles. That seemed ridiculous, since we don't have to get the child-resistant caps in our house if we don't want them.

So, now what? I'm here in Bellingham with dozens of brown plastic prescription bottles that no one will recycle.

It could have been a great big waste heap.

Now, it's art.

In January, a group of creative types and I who meet twice a month to learn about Julia Cameron's "The Artist's Way," met for an evening of sculpture.

I took 27 prescription bottles and glued them together to create the political message you see above.

I was going to present it to Haggen's Pharmacy, but instead took it to Fairhaven artist Rebecca Meloy who was seeking submissions for a spring show on "Green Art."

Meanwhile, I also sent a query to a pharmacy news group on the Internet (sci.med.pharmacy).

The pharmacists and pharmacy students who responded said industry rules against recycling were more a matter of protocol and "liability" than anything else.

A pharmacist from New York wrote that it was "unethical to redispense in the old container."

"We have no idea what was in the container that may contaminate something that's in the pharmacy." He added: "Why take the chance of a lawsuit for that?"

Another pharmacist, Richard Molitor from Seattle, told me, "Many drugs are considered 'hazardous waste' by the EPA (even though they're no more toxic than apple juice) so the disposal of their containers supposedly requires special handling (and permits, licenses, etc.)."


Stand back from my red-bag waste!

Only kidding. Even if that made sense, they've all been washed out.

Said Molitor: "It's not so much a law as a 'standard of practice' to provide a new container with each refill. Legally, a 'standard of practice' has just about as much standing in court as any law (at least in lawsuits)."

OK, OK. They don't want to get sued if some jerk puts rat poison in a refill bottle. Still, there should be some way to stop this wasteful practice.

A New Mexico pharmacist had what I consider a great idea:

"Why not write to the manufacturers (available from your local pharmacy) and suggest that they code the plastic containers for recycling?" said Katie McLane, chief pharmacist for So Lo Pharmacy in Las Cruces, N.M. "They might even benefit by being able to brag that they provide recycling information."

That's what I intend to do, and I encourage you to do the same.

In the meantime, though, why not find creative ways to recycle your prescription bottles?

After washing, make them into:

The Green Art exhibit, honoring the environment and capturing the essence of Whatcom County's beauty and changing quality of life, includes works by 14 other artists and runs through April 27. The Meloy & Company Gallery is at 1000 Harris Ave., 3rd floor, Studio 12, in Old Fairhaven. Gallery hours are 11 a.m. to 6 p.m., Fridays and Saturdays, or by appointment, (360) 734-7186.

A St. Patrick's Day reception, featuring the O'Haole Boys, was held at 3 p.m., Mar. 17.