Can You Recycle Bottle Caps? What to Know Before Recycling Your Bottles

You took your last sip, but before you throw that bottle in the recycling bin, read this.

If you’re used to recycling, you know that there are many rules for what goes in the recycling bin depending on where you live. They’re ever-changing, which can lead to confusion. (We can only imagine what recycling will look like in 10 years.)

From the most recyclable materials on the planet to things you should never recycle, there are so many questions to answer: Are bottle caps recyclable? Can I throw my plastic bottle into a recycling bin with cardboard? What do those plastic recycling numbers really mean? That first question comes up most often, so let’s tackle the answer.

Why is recycling bottle caps important?

Bottle caps may seem like a small thing, but those little bottle caps can have a big impact on the environment. In a Beach Environmental Awareness Campaign Hawaii study, researchers found that 100 percent of albatross chicks in the northwestern Hawaiian Islands had ingested plastic. Yes, all of them. And bottle caps were on that list. In fact, plastic caps and lids are one of the top ten items found during marine debris beach clean-ups.

But did you know that many U.S. cities still don’t have the technology to recycle plastic bottle caps? It makes the question, “Are bottle caps recyclable?” even more complicated. Let’s investigate the bottle cap mystery and find out how they’re recycled, where they’re accepted, and what to do if your city doesn’t take them.

Are bottle caps recyclable?

There are two different types of bottle caps: metal and plastic. You may think you can just throw them into the recycling bin, but first, you’ll want to find out if your local recycling location accepts both types of bottle caps.

If your local recycling company doesn’t accept plastic bottle caps, you’ll need to remove them. “Plastic bottle caps are a really difficult thing to recycle because they are a different resin and typically have a seal inside [that’s] hard to separate,” says Mike Wolf, warehouse supervisor for Pacific Steel in Missoula, Montana. “When people leave the plastic caps on, when the stuff is processed, it gets bailed.”

“Of course, it varies by region,” adds Wolf, “but around Missoula, there’s no way to recycle the plastic caps.”

Are bottle caps recyclable in your area? There’s an easy way to find out. Simply call or visit your local Public Works or Department of Sanitation’s website. You can also search Earth911.com for plastic bottle cap recycling locations.

How to recycle plastic bottle caps

If your area is able to recycle plastic bottle caps, however, the advice actually flips! According to the Association of Plastic Recyclers, “You do not need to remove the caps from your plastic water bottle before recycling them.” They continue, “While some people think removing the caps helps with sorting at the recycling facility, the opposite is in fact true.”

Instead, if you can recycle plastic bottle caps in your city, simply crush your plastic bottle, twist your plastic cap back on, and throw it in the recycling bin.

How to recycle metal bottle caps

Still asking yourself, “Are bottle caps recyclable?” Wolf notes that, while plastic bottle caps present numerous issues, “Metal bottle caps are no problem.” The same is true in nearly every U.S. city, but if you’re unsure, you can search on Earth911.com to find the nearest recycling facility in your area that takes metal bottle caps.

But the plot thickens even more, because while areas that accept plastic bottle caps prefer you to keep the cap on, they have different guidelines for metal caps. Napa Recycling and Waste Service experts in Napa, California give this advice: “Bottle caps are recyclable, but they often get lost during the recycling process because of their small size. Put your [metal] bottle caps in a steel food can, and when it’s nearly full, crimp or pinch it closed and recycle the can and its contents together.” It’s easier than it sounds— learn how here.

Recycling bottle caps cheat sheet

Here are the steps you can take to always recycle your bottle caps correctly:

  1. Find out if bottle caps (both plastic and metal) are recyclable in your area.
  2. If plastic bottle caps are recyclable, keep the caps on. If they’re not, remove the caps before recycling the bottles.
  3. Always remove metal caps from bottles. If your area recycles metal caps, store them in a steel food can and crimp it closed before recycling.

Now that you know more about how to recycle your plastic and metal bottle caps, there’s so much more you can learn about recycling! Find out how to recycle old clothes or whether your gift-wrapping paper is recyclable.

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Suzanne Downing
Suzanne Downing is a lifestyle writer with an environmental science journalism background. She covers outdoor recreation, sustainability, conservation, photography, travel, gear and more. When she’s not writing or out photographing landscapes and wildlife, you can find her coming up with a creative woodworking project or out hiking in her home state of Montana. She's also Communications Manager for Outdoor Writers Association of America, based in Missoula, MT.