Q. Do I need to take the caps off my bottles and things before I put them in the recycling? – Shannon, MI

A. Yes. Probably. When in doubt, take them off. Bottles and caps are made from different types of plastic, so even if they are both recycled, they generally most be separated first, says Darby Hoover, resource specialist for the Natural Resources Defense Council. “You can probably improve the chances of the bottle—and possibly the cap, but at least the bottle—getting recycled if you take off the cap. This also allows the bottle to dry out some,” she says. Unwanted caps are pesky because they can jam machinery, and also because if they get mixed in with another type of plastic being melted down, they can contaminate the whole batch.  

So what should you do with all those stray plastic caps you’ll be diligently removing from your bottles if your city doesn’t recycle them? Recycling programs are more likely to accept metal caps, but you should still take them off bottles first, especially if your town requires you to sort metal from glass. Also, natural hair and beauty product company Aveda will take caps and recycle them into, you guessed it, bottle caps!  Just drop them off at one of their stores or salons and they’ll get new life on top of a bottle of Clove Shampoo. Or keep an eye out for cap collection programs in your community—often times local schools and churches will sponsor cap collection drives, too.

Story by Tobin Hack. This article originally appeared in "Plenty" in October 2008.

Copyright Environ Press 2008