Stop Recycling Plastic Bottles Without Caps On

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Stop Recycling Plastic Bottles Without Caps On

With the recycling industry in flux, the rules surrounding recycling plastic aren’t always a given. For one, you can’t recycle plastic bags or straws and now black plastic is even becoming a problem. How will we ever know the right way to recycle?

Given the confusion, it makes sense that on a 2019 Reddit thread, user u/insert-quote-here advocated for taking caps off bottles when recycling, but here’s why that’s a wrong move”by separating a cap from a bottle, you’ve essentially thrown it right in the garbage.

Why? Oftentimes, when caps enter a recycling facility’s sorting process, they get sorted out because of their small size, and are then sent to landfills. As such, caps are now among the most common trash items found in our oceans (which also end up in the food chain when ingested by sea life).

Getty Images" loading="lazy" > Photo: Sean Gallup, Getty Images

Part of the confusion lies in us thinking we’re making the jobs of recyclers easier by unscrewing the pesky cap, but it’s actually a waste of your time and effort. Caps and bottles are often separated at facilities using water (after being chopped up, they’re separated based on their ability to float. Caps are less dense and float. Bottles sink).

And caps are valuable, too. They’re made of polypropylene plastic, a coveted plastic type among manufacturers and used in everything from storage bins to cutting boards, so throwing them away is a waste of an incredibly useful resource.

So what’s the right way to recycle a plastic water bottle? First, remove the cap and crunch the bottle up from the base until most of the air is removed. Screw the cap back on, the toss the bottle in the recycling bin! It’s easy, as long as you remember that the two belong together.

This article has been updated since its original publication.

Comments

    • This is the wrong question. Let’s reduce our plastics use. Don’t buy bottled water in plastic bottles. Use a tap and fill a glass. Find alternatives to grocery items packages in plastic. It isn’t as hard as you’d think. Reduce first then recycle

    • I discovered this when I rocked up with $50 worth to drop off and spent an hour unscrewing 🙁

    • I discovered this when I rocked up with $50 worth to drop off and spent an hour unscrewing 🙁

      • And looking at the replies. Basically in QLD, SA, ACT, WA you must take the bottle caps off. I haven’t looked into NT, TAS, VIC, or NSW. But this article has set out to try destroy the Earth. A note from one of the recycling companies.

        If the lids are left on with air inside the container, the tops trap air inside the bottle which means when the bottles are compressed during the recycling process the caps shoot off and cause damage to the machines.

        So basically leaving the caps on in the wrong circumstances can damage the machinery bringing all recycling to a stop.

  • Why? Oftentimes, when caps enter a recycling facility’s sorting process, they get sorted out because of their small size, and are then sent to landfills.

    Part of the confusion lies in us thinking we’re making the jobs of recyclers easier by unscrewing the pesky cap, but it’s actually a waste of your time and effort. Caps and bottles are often separated at facilities using water (after being chopped up, they’re separated based on their ability to float. Caps are less dense and float. Bottles sink).

    I’m confused. Is there some magical point in the recycling process where the caps stop being thrown away and start being recycled? “Those pesky caps are at the bottom of the water now, I guess we may as well recycle them.”

  • We remove bottle tops and caps, and collect them in a 2L milk jug along with any straws and other small plastic parts.
    then when the jug is fill it goes into the recycling.

    Our council website told us this avoids the small plastics falling through the sorting belts.

  • Yeah, this is also totally wrong for Western Australia. Our local council requests that we remove the lids and actually place the lids in general waste. The recycling sorters we have struggle with separating the plastics and the lids are not recyclable for us yet (annoying, but I’d rather follow those rules and be sure that at least the bottle is being recycled properly and the whole thing not going to landfill).

    I think the key things are:
    1.) Reduce plastic use as much as possible first.
    2.) Don’t take any generic information as gospel. Each council has their own rules as to what can and can’t be recycled at their facilities (which your waste goes to). So research your local councils rules and go by them.

  • Plastic bottle caps can either be:
    — collected and delivered to a pickup point for recycling into prosthetic limbs: https://7news.com.au/the-daily-edition/envision-hands-turns-bottle-caps-into-prosthetic-limbs-for-kids-in-need-c-200981
    — recycled inside another plastic container made of the same type of plastic (HDPE/Type 2)
    — if your council will take them attached to the bottles, squeeze the air out first (as the article above says), so the bottle won’t explode if it gets hot.

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