Bottle Caps: Recyclable or Not?

In the world of curbside recycling, is there anything more confusing than the lowly bottle cap? Perhaps not. Bottle caps are recyclable in some communities and little more than trash in others. In those communities that do recycle bottle caps, some waste haulers prefer you leave the caps on while others prefer you take them off. That doesn’t even touch the whole question of metal bottle caps.

The fact is that recycling rules differ based on location. That is because we don’t have a single recycling program for the entire U.S. States dictate their own rules. In some cases, they allow municipalities to make the rules. Your best bet for anything recyclable is to call your local waste management department and ask.

Plastic Bottle Caps

First off are plastic bottle caps. You would be forgiven for thinking that all plastic caps are recyclable. In theory, you would be correct. But in practice, you would be wrong. The problem is that there are different types of plastics and bottle cap seals.

The first thing you would have to know about a bottle cap is the type of plastic you are dealing with. Some manufacturers are nice enough to put recycling numbers on their caps. Others are not. If you don’t know the number of a particular cap, throw it away. Your waste hauler cannot recycle plastic if they can’t identify it.

Moving on, many plastic bottle caps have seals attached on the inside. The point of the seal is to prevent leakage. Any cap with a seal should be thrown away. It isn’t worth the waste hauler’s time and effort to remove the seal prior to recycling. So no effort is made.

Caps On or Off

Let us assume that bottle caps are recyclable in your area. Do you put the caps back on or leave them off before recycling? That is a question for your waste hauler or municipal waste department to answer. In some cases, they would prefer that you crush the plastic bottle and then put the cap back on. Both bottle and cap are recycled together. In other cases, they would prefer that you toss the caps in your bin separately.

Seraphim Plastics, a Tennessee company that specializes in recycling industrial scrap plastic, says that the whole cap issue boils down to a waste hauler’s ability to separate different types of plastics. Waste haulers want to reduce the need to separate as much as possible. Less separation means less work and a higher potential for profit.

Recycling Metal Bottle Caps

Any recycling program that accepts aluminum, tin, and steel cans probably accepts metal bottle caps as well. In this case, you cannot reattach the caps to the bottles. So what do you do? According to a Reader’s Digest article on this very topic, some trash haulers ask their customers to collect metal bottle caps in a tin can. Once the can is full, customers are asked to crimp it closed and toss it in the recycling bin. This prevents loose bottle caps from getting jammed in sorting equipment at the recycling center.

Always Best to Ask

Seraphim plastics doesn’t deal with residential collections simply because the amount of time and effort required to sort residential recyclables makes the practice cost prohibitive. They say the bottle cap issue highlights the difficulties with curbside recycling perfectly.

Should you recycle bottle caps or throw them away? Ask your trash hauler or local municipal waste department. If you are ever unsure, you’re better off throwing bottle caps away. There is no point in potentially contaminating a whole recycling load by tossing in unwelcome caps.