How to Recycle Can Holders (rigid plastic 6-pack rings)

PakTech rigid plastic can carriers
PakTech Can Carriers

(Originally published Sept. 28, 2019 – Updated Feb. 10, 2021 and Aug. 23, 2021)

If you are a craft beer drinker, you may have noticed more and more six-packs being packaged with new rigid plastic 6-pack holders rather than the old clear flexible plastic rings. And you are probably wondering how to recycle can holders, if that is even an option. On the one hand, the new can carriers (or can holders, can handles, rigid 6-pack rings, whatever you want to call them) are a great thing for ocean life like seagulls, turtles and fish which get caught in the old style plastic rings that look like this:

6-pack plastic rings on the beach
Old style plastic 6-pack rings

Plus which, the new can holders are made from recycled plastic milk jugs and allow six-packs to be stacked on top of each other without needing to be wrapped in additional shrink-wrap plastic or put into cartons. So they ship lighter, using less packaging and energy. That’s all great, but after the beer is drunk and the aluminum cans recycled, what do we do with these things? Can you recycle beer can holders?

Although they are marked as #2 HDPE plastic, which is quite recyclable, the problem for most recycling centers is the shape. Because of the way that recyclables are sorted at most Materials Recovery Facilities (MRFs), anything less than 2″ in diameter will slip through the disk screens and may end up contaminating other materials. (See this article about how recyclables get sorted in a MRF.) Therefore, most recycling programs don’t want this type of item mixed in with the rest of your curbside recycling.

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Recycling Can Holders

If you are lucky enough to live in Massachusetts or Rhode Island, there is a movement of local breweries and beverage stores that have organized to take back can holders for recycling. Check this map for Massachusetts Can Carrier Drop-Off Locations and here for Rhode Island Can Carrier Drop-Off Locations.

If you do not live in one of those two states, the manufacturer of these rigid 6-pack rings, PakTech, is offering to take them back for recycling. They have drop-off locations, mostly at craft beer stores. Use this PakTech Recycling locator map to find your nearest drop-off location. (FYI, you may want to look at this map on a computer rather than your phone, I have problems getting the map to work on my Android phone, but it works fine on my laptop).

Once you find a local drop-off, look for this bin:

PakTech can carrier recycling bin
PakTech recycling bin for new rigid can carriers

If you do not see the bin, ask a staff member, they may collect them elsewhere. If you don’t find any drop-off locations near you on the PakTech map, check with local breweries or beer stores that use these types of can holders, they may accept them for reuse, or might be convinced to start doing so if enough people request it.

After collection, the can holders are recycled into new products like flower pots, park benches and more PakTech handles.

In the future, hopefully more soda makers and breweries will consider adopting these new paperboard can carriers, which would allow us to simply throw them in with our regular paper recycling!

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