Can You Recycle Bottle Caps?

Is there anything better than cracking a cold one and spending an afternoon chilling out? That’s a rhetorical question; of course there isn’t!

But as nice as it is to feel our stress and problems melt away with each sip, even in this moment of pure leisure, we are not completely devoid of responsibility.

Can You Recycle Bottle Caps?

You know those bottle caps we’ve been cracking? Well, they pose something of a quandary when it comes to their disposal.

Some may throw them in the garbage without a second thought for the environmental repercussions of their decision.

Others will flick them into the recycling, then settle down with their brewsky feeling good about themselves for doing the right thing.

However, neither of these hypothetical sippers is in the right. In this article, I’ll be explaining why that is.

Are Metal Bottle Caps Recyclable?

Most of us assume that bottle caps, along with most other simple metal items found in our homes, can be recycled, and that is indeed correct.

Metal bottle caps can absolutely be recycled, but that doesn’t mean our second hypothetical boozer can take the moral high ground just yet.

There are a few things we need to know before we toss our caps in the recycling bin.

Size Matters

Here’s a little known yet critical fact about recycling plants and the machinery used within them: the size of a recyclable object is absolutely essential.

Simply put, the larger they are, the better (within the realms of reason).

Items that are too small will not be picked up by the machine sensors and will never be sorted into their respective recycling processes.

Items that fail to pass the size test will probably end up in the landfill, thereby rendering the recycler’s good intentions completely useless — boo!

The question then becomes… just how big does an item need to be to qualify for recycling?

Well, generally speaking, we should be aiming for something along the lines of tennis ball sized, but this poses another question… how the heck are we supposed to make our bottle caps tennis ball sized?

It seems like something of a conundrum at first, but there is a simple solution: use your cans!

Instead of throwing your cans straight into the recycling, keep one behind, and use it as a little dedicated bin for your bottle caps.

As they’re both made from metal, they can be processed together in the recycling plant, and with the added girth of the empty can, they’re sure to be picked up and repurposed.

Testing Their Mettle

There is one more issue we have to face in order to get this bottle cap reincarnation in full swing, and that’s the fact that bottle caps are made out of one of two metals, and we need to figure out which before sorting them into cans composed of corresponding material.

Thankfully, you don’t need to be a physics or engineering whiz to figure this out. All you need is a little magnet.

Bottle caps will either be made out of 100% aluminum or 100% steel.

Aluminum is lighter, while steel is more robust, but there is one other fundamental difference that separates these materials… their magnetism.

Steel, as you may already be aware, is magnetic, whereas aluminum, isn’t at all. So, if your cap is attracted to your magnet, it’s definitely, unequivocally, invariably steel.

If your cap is entirely unmoved by your magnet, it’s made from aluminum.

Finding Your Caps A Tin

Can You Recycle Bottle Caps?

As we touched upon a moment ago, the caps need to match the cans you’ll be using to collect them in terms of composition, so you’ll need to find one aluminum can and one steel can, then use them both for sorting your caps before sending them to a recycling plant.

Simply use your magnet trick from earlier to locate the appropriate tin can homes for your caps, and you’re set!

To complete your green mission, all that’s left to do is crimp the opening of the can shut before putting them in the recycling bin.

This way, the caps will not fall out as the tin is jostled around during transport and processing.

One last note, try not to fill the can all the way to the brim with bottle caps, as this will make crimping it quite tricky.

An Alternative To Try Before You Start Hoarding Tin Cans

Although it’s relatively uncommon, recycling plants in some areas will have the capacity to process metal bottle caps as they are — no cans necessary!

So, before you start rifling through your trash in search of that Coke your friend chucked a week ago, call your local authorities, and ask them about their policies regarding bottle caps.

Furthermore, if the retailer of the bottles the caps came from has something of a green streak, they may accept the caps back for processing internally, as recycling metal uses far fewer resources than it takes to produce new items from raw materials.

Give the company an email or call and inquire about their cap recall policies.

What About Plastic Bottle Caps?

Most plastics are highly recyclable, but there is still a lot of uncertainty regarding plastic bottle caps.

In the past, we’ve been told to remove them before placing our plastic bottles in the recycling bin.

This is because the pressure inside the bottles when they’re being crushed can send the cap flying like a bullet.

Another reason is that caps are often made out of a different plastic than the bottle, and they need to be separated before they reach the plant.

The seal within those caps can also be made out of a third different type of plastic, further complicating matters.

However, as long as your local recycling plant accepts them, plastic caps are recyclable.

How To Recycle Plastic Bottle Caps

Unlike metal bottle caps, you don’t need to gather the plastic caps in a vestibule before sending them to the curb.

Areas that do accept these caps are all in agreement that the best thing to do is to leave the caps on their respective bottles, but before tightening them, it’s good practice to squeeze all the air out of the bottle and crush it slightly.

Final Thoughts

That’s all there is to it really — both metal and plastic bottle caps are recyclable, but you have to be clever about it, and always, always contact the local recycling authority to ask about their policies before assuming they’ll collect your caps.

Jenna Bates
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