Bottle caps and recycling – are they recyclable?

Lids in a cart-FL.jpg
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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  1. Thanks for including my Bottle Cap Necklace photo in your article! Much appreciated! :) – Jill

  2. Thanks for a fabulous article. Didn’t know how difficult it was to recycle bottle caps. At least now I won’t make the same mistake of leaving them on.

    Jill are those bottle cap necklaces your creation? They’re wonderful.

  3. Since the bottle caps (metal or plastic) have no immediate return valve to the consumer I hope they do not find their way on the ground and in the runoffs or street drains wher ethey might end up in our oceans, rivers, or lakes. If there was an immediate value to the consumer maybe more caps would end up in the recycling bins or brought in to the recycling centers.
    Hope bottle caps don’t just end up like many cigarette butts.

  4. the bottle cap is two pieces–what about the plastic ring left on the bottle?

  5. Pingback: Research: Plastic Bottle Caps « Wastefool

  6. The ReCap Company would take your plastic bottle caps. We have been is business for over a year. We repurpose the caps into useful outdoor products. We will assist with shipping of caps and offer incentives for donations. We have collected nearly 550,000 caps! Collections and donations have picked up drastically in the past few months! We have collections bins in several states and are on our way to make a greener and cleaner planet! Please check us out and contact us with any questions you may have.

  7. Thanx for the insight about recycling. Am hoping that in attempting to recycle matallic bottletops i will do some good for my community.

  8. You mention reusing bottlecaps for homebrewing. However, this is only possible with twist-off caps. My boyfriend is a home brewer and he is positive that bottlecaps are not reusable, because the sides crimp down, they get bent during opening, and just don’t fit back onto a bottle in the same way. Do you know where you got the information that this is possible? I looked on the link you provided but there was no information that I could find about reusing or recycling used bottlecaps. If there’s a method for doing this I would love to know about it! Thank you!

  9. Plastic caps and lids can now be recycled. Visit http://www.capsncups.com for more information.

  10. Thnx, but can you write and article of how they get recycled? THnx for this one anyways:).

  11. PUBLISHED 1998

    Amazon.com: Bottle Cap Activities : Recycled Crafts for All Ages (9780893342791): Kathy Cisneros: Books

    Thank you in advance for your consideration,
    Sincerely,

    Kathy Cisneros
    1. http://www.amazon.com/Bottle-Cap-Activities-Recycled-Crafts/dp/0893342793/

  12. Metal bottle caps are not reusable for homebrewing. Di mentions twist off, but no hombrewers use twist off caps to seal their bottles.

  13. I wanted to know if there is a company or place that takes in bottle cap and you’ll receive some kind of money from it/

  14. PUBLISHED 1998

  15. Pingback: 7 Ways to Be a Better Recycler

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  17. Latest update: plastic caps are being recycled and actually have value!

    “These different types of plastic have to be recycled separately.” The reality is PET bottle sinks and the PP cap floats due to its density in the washline process. The floatables are recycled at the PET plant and the sinkables are then sold to a PP recycler (such as KW Plastics).

    Last year, we recycled approx 80 MM lbs of PP, 70% of which was a cap & closure source. Our capacities and market demands allow for more to be recycled, we simply just need the feedstock.

    Programs, such as Aveda’s Recycle Caps http://www.aveda.com/aboutaveda/caps.tmpl?ngextredir=1 have been established to fill in the gap where communities are not yet accepting caps. Aveda actually used the post-consumer resin for a special edition anniversary bottle, proving that not only can caps be recycled but they can be used again in higher end application.

    The Association of PostConsumer Recyclers (www.plasticsrecycling.org) issued a press release June 2010 stating “that plastic bottles and containers with caps and closures should have the caps replaced prior to recycling. ”

    Sooo…there you have it. Caps CAN be recycled after all. They have value (we cut checks every week!) and there is an increasing demand from markets that want post-consumer PP.

  18. That is pretty stupid.
    I am sure they can make the tops out of the same plastic.
    After all, a crushed bottle with its cap on, will take up a great deal less space. I am sure the weight is less of an issue than the volume. Puncturing and melting should ensure there are no issues. Just seems lame.

  19. I have been cleaning the beach by my home and was wondering why there are so many plastic bottle caps being washed ashore with no bottles. After reading this article and posts I have learned they haven’t been recyclable. Glad to hear they are recently becoming so. My town does not ask us to remove the caps. I am still left to wonder how all these caps are washing ashore daily. Who is dumping them in the ocean???

  20. Once a year Aveda sponsors a bottle cap drive through local elementary schools throughout the country. They have capped enrollment in their program to 1600 schools and are at capacity. Watch your newspaper or call your school districts to find a participating school near you. Then save your bottle caps all year until the annual collection drive comes around. Schools and classrooms win money for turning in these bottle caps.

  21. A second option is to make a small slit in the plastic bottle and but the plastic bottle cap inside. The caps are actually recycleable according to our local Waste Connections recycling specialist as long as they’re not roaming free and damaging the equipment or exploding off the bottle when crushed endangering recycling staff.

  22. Hey all,
    Here in Portland, Oregon we are pretty lucky. Our communities are rabid about recycling. Our Metro recyclers take almost everything. Bike shops take used tires and burst tubes. We have an art supply store that takes stuff that isn’t recyclable. We even have grocery stores that take stuff. New Seasons is a local market that accepts #5 plastics via a bin in their parking lot. They also take plastic film and bags, take-out containers, yogurt cups (also #5), and the like. A national chain that is big here too, Whole Foods also takes a variety of hard-to-recycle recyclables. For those of you who aren’t so lucky, make a few phone calls to your local recycler (often the people that take your trash) and the stores nearest your home. Some of the stores here actually have an environmental officer that focuses on ways to green the company’s practices… and their image. Fifteen minutes of calling around could change your relationship with your trash.

  23. You can take your number 5 bottle caps to your local wholefoods. They work with Gimme5. Which supply bins all over the place collecting and reusing your number 5 recyclables!! If you dont have a whole food by you go to gimme5.com or search gimme5bins and your city!

    Hope that helps!!

  24. Y’ALL ARE A BUNCH OF CRACK POTS. This is the most ridiculous thing i’ve ever heard. Literally every single batch of recycling would be wasted if each batch containing bottle caps was thrown away. You’d think that if this was actually true maybe we, as recyclers, would have been previously notified.

  25. I apologize sincerely for making a mockery of this site and impersonating Johanna Beach in my last comment. My real name is Hannah Brown and I do not believe any of those comments. GO RECYCLING! SAFE OUR PLANET! Peace, love, and plastic :)

  26. This would be a very informative insight. I think that not all of those people out there knows on what to do with all those plastic bottle caps will be recycled.

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  27. can you recyical soda caps? ; /

  28. AND IF YOU CAN recyical soda caps then were at ?

  29. Idea for reusing metal bottle tops – my boyfriend is a beer afficionado. For a year I secretly collected his discarded bottle tops (when the beer got a good review!), one of each kind, then stuck a magnet on the back of each so our fridge magnets now represent his fave beers! You can even reuse those magnets that come on free fridge calenders etc. OK, it won’t save the world, but it’s a little bit cool. And he had fun trying to remember which beers they were from, and it reminded him of some he wanted to try again.

  30. Lois Paredes on June 22, 2012 at 7:52 pm

    It is very useful, thank you for making this wonderful essay.

  31. Pingback: Throwing that pop bottle in your recycle bin? Forget the cap! | Agresti Real Estate

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