How Do I Recycle Plastic Bottle Caps?

How do I recycle plastic bottle caps?

What’s the deal with plastic bottle caps and plastic lids? Some communities say to leave them out of recycling, some say they are fine. Some communities want you to leave the caps on your bottles, others want them left off. What’s with all the different rules when it comes to plastic bottle caps and lids? Are they actually recyclable and if so, how can I recycle plastic bottle caps?

The Trouble with Bottle Caps

The problem with plastic bottle caps starts with the fact that many of them are made from #5 plastic (polypropylene), whereas the bottles themselves are usually made from either #1 (PET) or #2 (HDPE) plastic. When it comes time to melt that plastic down for recycling, it would be best if different types of plastic weren’t mixed in together. Strike one for leaving the caps on.

But if the caps and lids are left loose in the mix of recyclables, most of them are so small, they will simply fall through the disk screens at the Materials Recovery Facility (MRF). Here’s a quick video to show you what disc screens look like and how they separate small bits of debris from the bulkier recyclables.

Unfortunately, most plastic caps won’t make it through this process, they’ll fall through into the debris or end up contaminating the glass shards. Strike one for leaving the caps loose in the mix.

If caps are left out of recycling entirely, well then that’s just a wasted unrecycled resource. Plus plastic bottle caps are a huge problem when it comes to ocean debris and pollution. Strike one for leaving the caps out of recycling altogether.

Long story short – all the options kinda suck.

Your local MRF (recycling/sorting facility) has been trying to determine how best to deal with this issue. Most likely they are deferring to what the end user of the plastic prefers (i.e. whether the receiving manufacturer is okay with mixed plastics, or whether they only want #1 and #2). My program (for now) is asking us to leave caps and lids on. Others request you to leave them off and out of your recycling entirely. Check with your local recycling program and see what they’d like you to do.

Is there any other way to recycle plastic bottle caps if my program won’t take them?

There was one program that was taking plastic caps for recycling: Preserve’s Gimme 5 program. But it went on hold at the start of the Covid-19 pandemic and as of this writing (Jan. 24, 2022) it is still on hold. I have been keeping watch to see if they restart this program hopefully.

NEW! Turn your plastic caps into a bench or picnic table.

There is one more option I have just discovered for recycling your plastic caps, and that is to find a local company that makes recycled plastic benches, picnic tables and other outdoor, heavy-duty type plastic items. Some of these companies have programs to take your plastic caps and make them into a bench or table for you. The downside is that you as an individual cannot simply send them your plastics, you have to be prepared to buy the end product.

This is a good project for schools because they can buy and put the bench or table on the school property. I could see this also being a possibility for a public park. If this is something you think your kids’ school or your local park might participate in, you can Google “plastic caps to benches” and the name of your state to see if there are any companies near you that have a program like this.

Anyone out there actively seeking plastic bottle caps for making into recycled products? Please let me know because I get a lot of questions from people looking for someplace to take their caps.

Visit this article for more information about what is going on with the current state of #5 plastic recycling and your options for dealing with this type of plastic.

Pill bottles

Related: Can I Recycle Plastic Pill Bottles?

[ Originally posted 2/11/2021, Updated 1/24/2022 ]

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