Can You Recycle Plastic Bottle Caps and Lids?

Hands holding colorful plastic milk bottle caps

Wondering if you can recycle bottle caps and lids? For years, consumers have been told to remove the caps and lids on plastic bottles and containers before recycling. That is now changing at the recommendation of the plastics recycling industry itself.

The Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers (APR)’s Executive Director, Steve Alexander, explains.

You Can Now Recycle Plastic Bottle Caps & Lids

The plastics recycling industry is now recommending that consumers replace caps and lids on plastic bottles and containers they recycle. This is part of an effort to increase the amount of material collected and to avoid sending consumers conflicting messages.

Our members are reporting a growing demand for the caps themselves and we want to assure recycling coordinators, materials recovery facilities operators and other collectors of recyclables that plastics recyclers will process these bottles and recover the caps for recycling purposes.

Why Recommendations Have Changed for Recycling Bottle Caps & Lids

The reason that in the past we asked consumers to take the cap off is because the cap is made from a different kind of plastic than the bottle, meaning that the bottle and its cap could not be recycled together (in plastics recycling, resins must be separated before they can be processed because they have different melting points).

However, our members are now telling us that they have the ability to handle bottles and containers with caps on, which is encouraging. The APR is committed to increasing the available supply and the actual amount of plastics being recycled while at the same time reducing the instances of litter and waste in local communities in North America.

Something Else to Consider When You Recycle Bottle Tops & Lids

Another reason why bottle caps were historically not included was safety issues—if the caps are left on, they can often shoot off at high speeds when the bottles are crushed for transport. If caps are left on and bottles aren’t crushed, it meant that fewer bottles were being transported for recycling at a time.

To get around this, we recommend that consumers crush bottles prior to putting the cap back on. Bottles should be free of liquid, but rinsing is not necessary for recycling.

Keep in mind, however, that even though plastic recyclers support including caps and are able to process the material, you should always follow the instructions of your local recycling program.

Learn More: Recycling plastics facts