Are Bottle Caps Recyclable? What to Know

Updated: Apr. 22, 2024

You took your last sip, but are bottle caps recyclable? Here's what to know!

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. From the most recyclable materials on the planet to things you should never recycle, there are so many questions to answer, one being: Are bottle caps recyclable?

One you’re done sipping your favorite drinks, we’re sharing exactly what you should do with those bottle caps to help save our environment. We even answer a few other important recycling questions, like “Can I throw my plastic bottle into a recycling bin with cardboard? And what do those plastic recycling numbers mean?” We have all of the answers below, including expert tips from Mike Wolf, the warehouse supervisor for Pacific Steel in Missoula, Mont.

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About the expert

  • Mike Wolf is the warehouse supervisor for Pacific Steel, a steel and recycling giant in Missoula, Mont.

Why is recycling bottle caps important?

They 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% 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 10 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?

Top view of two bowls side by side, one with plastic bottle caps and one with metal bottle capsFotografiaBasica/Getty Images

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 Wolf. “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 do I 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.”

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.

Why trust us

At Reader’s Digest, we’re committed to producing high-quality content by writers with expertise and experience in their field in consultation with relevant, qualified experts. We rely on reputable primary sources, including government and professional organizations and academic institutions as well as our writers’ personal experience where appropriate. For this piece on recycling bottle caps, we spoke with Mike Wolf, the warehouse supervisor for Pacific Steel, a steel and recycling giant in Missoula, Montana. We verify all facts and data, back them with credible sourcing, and revisit them over time to ensure they remain accurate and up to date. Read more about our team, our contributors and our editorial policies 

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