Caps are made from plastic #5 (PP) or polypropylene, a different type of plastic than the bottles. Beverage bottles are typically made from polyethylene terephthalate (PET), or plastic #1. Bottles for detergent, personal care and other household products are commonly made from high-density polyethylene (HDPE) or plastic #2.
Historically, most recyclers have required that caps be removed from the bottle and left out of the recycling bin. The separate treatment was dictated by the limits of processing equipment at the recycling plants. The caps could not be safely or effectively separated from the other types of plastic. Consumers were instructed to discard the caps in the trash. And unfortunately, caps were quite often tossed onto roadways and beaches. The litter and the presence of plastic in landfills caused environmental issues that impacted waterways, marine species, birds and other wildlife.
Recent innovations in processing equipment have led to new capabilities for many communities. “Caps-On” is a 2012 campaign from the Association of Post- Consumer Plastics Recyclers. They recommend leaving caps on and recycling the bottles with the caps in place. Where this is feasible, it is a great solution to plastic cap litter and plastic in the landfills. It will increase the amount of #5 plastic that is recycled.
It is important for consumers to periodically check with their local recycling agencies to know the most current guidelines for their communities. Many have modernized their equipment and can process bottles with the caps on.
For consumers in areas where those capabilities are not yet available, the Caps Can Do® program will continue to fill the need for responsible recycling of plastic caps.
Different Communities, Different Capabilities
Shredded bottle caps - made from #5 plastic (polypropylene)
Bottles made from #1 plastic (Polyethylene terephthalate) have been more commonly recycled than their caps.
Why have plastic caps been a problem in the past?
Why the new recommendations?