Bottle caps and recycling – are they recyclable?

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Photo courtesy of Jeremy Brooks at Flickr.com.

Bottle caps are surprisingly difficult to recycle. Many curbside recycling programs ask that you remove any lids or caps from bottles. For one thing, this allows the bottles to dry out (reducing transportation costs by reducing weight). Also, open bottles are easier to crush and bale. And some recycling machines are easily jammed by plastic shards and tiny lids.

Most importantly, plastic bottle caps are often made from a different type of plastic from the bottles they’re attached to. Soda bottles are generally made from Type 1 Plastic (Polyethylene Terephthalate) while bottle caps are made from Type 5 Plastic (Polypropylene). These different types of plastic have to be recycled separately. If the bottle and the cap were recycled in the same batch of plastic, the two different plastics would melt unevenly and the whole batch would be ruined.

For this reason, bottle caps are often removed at the recycling facility. People are paid to hand sort the recyclables and remove unwanted trash. Contamination of recycling bins with garbage is a huge problem. Mixing the wrong kinds of plastic with recycling significantly increases the cost of recycling because when workers hand sort the entire bin it slows down the process and increases the cost to such a degree that it’s cheaper for most recycling organizations to simply toss the entire bin as waste material.

But what about metal bottle caps? These are often made of steel, with an attached plastic seal. This mix of plastic and metal isn’t universally recycled, so the first thing you should consider is re-using the bottle caps for homebrewing. This will keep the bottlecaps out of the waste stream for a few more uses (without any energy used to melt and reform the metal) and it can also save you a few bucks (each re-used bottle cap will save 2-3 cents). Just make sure to boil the caps between uses, and don’t re-use lids that are wearing out.

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Photo courtesy of jnhkrawczyk at Flickr.com.

Steel bottle caps can also be made into other things. They make interesting artistic crafts, such as bottle cap jewelry, checkers, or paint mixers. There’s even a company that sells fishing lures made from bottle caps.

If your recycling center can process metal bottle caps, all you have to do is put loose caps in the recycling bin. Before you recycle your bottle caps, check with your local recycling program to see if they accept bottle caps. Many programs sort steel bottle caps using magnets. If the recycling center in your town is unable to process the bottle caps, you can also check and see if neighboring towns are equipped rather than throwing them away.

Whether you’re using steel or plastic bottle caps,

…the best way to reduce all kinds of container and cap recycling is to buy in large rather than single-serving containers. Does the event you’re holding really require dozens and dozens of 8- to 16-ounce soda and water bottles, many of which will get left behind only partly consumed anyway? Why not buy large soda bottles, provide pitchers of (tap) water and let people pour into re-usable cups?

Do you recycle at your house?

If so, you might be interested in these home recycling products like a cool aluminum can crusher that comes with a collection bin, a three bin system for sorting your recyclables, or a multi-can crusher that can crush 10 cans at once.

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