Waste Management

Recycling Guide to Caps, Lids and Tops

For recycling enthusiasts, the recyclability of container caps, lids and tops can offer hours of stimulating conversation. For everyone else, the question of whether to recycle these small items is just plain annoying. Regardless of how you categorize yourself, the information below should boost your recycling IQ.

Plastic caps from plastic containers. Plastic containers usually come with a plastic top. Contrary to popular belief, the plastic cap can be recycled as long as it’s reattached to the plastic container from which it came. Examples: water bottle, peanut butter jar, Dunkin’ Donuts iced-coffee cup and sour cream container.

Plastic caps from Tetra-Pak boxes. Tetra-Paks include milk boxes, juice boxes, and broth and stock boxes. They often come with small screw-off plastic caps. Those caps can be recycled as long as they are reattached to the Tetra-Pak.

Orphaned plastic caps. Any loose plastic cap that has lost its container should be placed in the trash bin.

Metal caps from glass jars. The top can be recycled as long as it’s placed in the recycling bin separate from the jar. Examples: tops from pasta sauce jars, jam jars, Ball canning jars (rings and discs).

Metal bottle caps from glass bottles. Small metal bottle caps can no longer be placed in your recycling bin loose. They fall through the spaces in between conveyor belts at the Central Landfill’s recycling facility and cause mechanical problems. However, these bottle caps can be recycled. Place these bottle caps in an aluminum soup can until it is half full. Then, crimp the top of the can so that the bottle caps are trapped. Toss the crimped can in the recycling bin. Examples: beer bottle caps, soda bottle caps, Snapple bottle caps, wine bottle caps and olive oil bottle caps.

Metal discs from aluminum cans. Whether an aluminum can has a pop-top or requires a can opener, the resulting metal piece can be recycled. It’s best to leave the disc slightly hanging and folded down into the can, but if it is detached it can still be placed in the recycling bin.  Examples: soup can, tomato sauce can, cat food can, Ball canning jar disc. Metal lids are fine for recycling. You can either leave a bit of the lid attached and bend it into the can, or plop them down in the can’s bottom and give the can a little pinch.

Straws should be placed in the trash bin.

And remember, always empty the food or drink from your container before recycling. If you have access to a sink, give it a quick rinse.

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  1. Soup cans are not aluminum, they are steel. Soda cans are aluminum. Loose caps should be put in cans of the same material. If you are not sure, test it with a magnet. The magnet will stick to steel but not to aluminum. Beer and snapple caps are usually steel. Soda, olive oil and wine are usually aluminum.

  2. I checked with RIRRC on the question of lids from non-aluminum metal cans. Here is what they had to say:
    Thanks for writing! The metal lids are fine for recycling. You can either leave a bit of the lid attached and bend them into the can, or plop them down in the can’s bottom and give the can a little pinch. That will get them to where they need to be (with the cans!)

    also, RIRRC has a link listing items and whether they are recylable. It's called Recyclopidia. Check it out and if you don't find what you are looking for, they will research and add it to their list. here's the link http://rirrc.org/AtoZ.

  3. If the caps aren't reattached, they fall down through the conveyor belt. If they are attached, they 'ride' with their bottles through the system and are recycled.

  4. So, theoretically, what are the chances that say, an ice coffee lid stays on it's cup on the trip from house to bin to truck to sorting facility? Seems pretty slim.

    Sounds like maybe they should fix their system so that they can handle the recyclables they receive instead of instructing people to throw recyclable material into the trash.

  5. In Montgomery County, Maryland, we have to take the caps and lids off bottles and containers before we put them in the recycling bin!

    I'm not sure exactly why that is, but here's a link to the site for those in doubt:

    http://m.montgomerycountymd.gov/sws/how/plastics.html

    I guess there's no hard and fast rule about those caps–it just depends on the rules of the recycling facility.

  6. Dan brings up a good point – soup cans are rarely (I’ve never seen one) aluminum. Is it OK to throw bottle caps into a soda (aluminum) can? Will it get separated during the smelting process? You’d think they would use different melting points to separate materials, and many metals don’t form alloys.

  7. U have answered a few questions I’ve had & settled arguements in my fwmily. Appreciate it on both fronts. 🙂

  8. And I’m just learning this now! I’ve been recycling in RI since the recycle revolution to hold here, and in no other place has there been any mention of remove metal caps from jars but keep plastic lids on. It’s a darn shame, but thank you ECORI for setting me straight. I guess the state can’t be bothered to make it work efficiently.

  9. I would like to know if you have to cut those Plastic soda ring holders. It’s usually for a 6 pack of soda.
    I do.. but is it necessary if it’s being recycled?
    I don’t want a little animal to get caught up in one.

    • Yes always cut them up really good because if not they end up in lakes oceans an animals try to eat them and die or get wrapped in them and die

  10. I am curious if this has been revised at all since it’s original 2013 posting? Are the cap rules still the same today since processing and technology have transformed so much? Thanks!

  11. My recycling center only takes plastics 1s and 2s. I don’t know what to do with the bottle caps they won’t take.

  12. Thank you, this was really helpful – turns out I’ve been doing a few things completely wrong for years. I have a tricky question regarding straws, on the off chance you know the answer: after googling it I learned that straws shouldn’t be recycled bc, despite being made from recyclable material, they’re too lightweight to make it through the mechanical recycling sorter. So does that mean that you could recycle straws (and other recyclable material that is too lightweight on its own) if you put them inside a plastic bottle & then screwed the lid on, as your article just taught me is what I should be doing anyways?

    Theoretically it seems like it’d be work seamlessly , but I have a feeling that may not be the case (given that you specified to leave plastic drink caps on for that very reason, yet didn’t mention it in regards to straws).

    Would love an answer if you have one, and thanks again for the article!

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