Bottle Caps Program
Most plastics are sorted and classified by the Society of the Plastics
Industry coding system (SPI). This coding system allows
consumers to determine which type of plastic a container is made
When you buy a bottle of water, you are
buying two different types of plastics. The bottle itself is
made from a type 1 plastic and the
bottle cap is made from a type 5 plastic. These numbers
are located in the arrow triangle symbol. Both products can be
processed for recycling; however, they require significantly
different melting points. This means a rigorous sorting process
must be implemented.
Currently, there are no measures that demand municipalities recycle
bottle caps. This makes it even more
important to increase public awareness and collection of caps
and other type 5 plastics to ensure they do not end up in our landfills
and throughout the environment.
Learn more about Plastics
What is the Caps Program?
The MaST Center implemented
the Caps Program because we became aware of the conflicts surrounding
bottle caps and recycling techniques, or lack thereof. We wanted to draw
interest to the subject so our community would become more aware of the
current predicament we face; what are we supposed to do with our bottle
caps? By collecting caps we not only are realizing the enormity of the
problem, but we have the chance to educate the public.
Why do we care about bottle caps?
Most of our plastic products are designed to last, and
because of this it can take hundreds or even thousands of years
for them to decompose. In fact, nearly every piece
of plastic ever made is still in existence today. Because bottle
caps are made from a more durable type of plastic than other
products, these become especially dangerous in our environment.
Scientists are learning that
tiny microscopic pieces of
plastic are being found in our oceans and watersheds all over
the world. Every year countless birds, mammals, sea turtles, you
name it, die
from ingesting caps and other plastic debris. We find caps
especially important because they are still being disposed of in
our landfills, whereas other plastics products are being tended
Why is it hard to recycle Bottle Caps?
Bottle Caps (type 5 plastics)
require a drastically higher melting temperature (+100
degrees) than most other plastics. Because of this, recyclers
must separate the two types of plastic either manually or by
using a floating technique (different types of plastic have
different densities). Melting at higher temperatures and time
consumption from separation causes fees to increase for
recycling companies. Ultimately, the system becomes less
Other issues recyclers face:
Some molding companies are adding a new material to type 5
plastics to make them even more durable. This additive causes
the plastic to sink in water, whereas otherwise, it would float.
This makes it nearly impossible for plastics to be
separated using the floating technique. In this case, the
sinks to the bottom of the tank and is shipped to the landfill.
Another concern is that if
caps are not removed before pressurized processing, they can become
high velocity projectiles as bottles are compacted, posing a
threat to workers. Lastly, if caps are too small (under 3" in
diameter) they can fall through
cracks in the machinery and disposed in landfills.
What are we doing with the caps we collect?
The MaST Center has collected over 80,000 caps in the last 2
students from the University of Washington Tacoma created a 10'
tall Jellyfish sculpture that currently hangs at the MaST
Center. We are again extending the offer to both Highline
and UWT art students to add to our bottle cap art collection.
Research is also currently being done concerning recycling statistics, regulations in facilities, hurtles we
face, and drives for change in the type 5 plastic industry.
Are caps recyclable in Washington?
recycling facilities are beginning to accept bottle caps.
However, typically there are size limitations (3"+) and caps
MUST be removed from the bottles. Depending on your location,
collection processes may differ. Whole Foods Market has a well-developed program called "Preserve Gimme
5" that collects type 5 plastics to be recycled. With the
recycled material, they create a wide variety of kitchen and
bath products such as cutting boards, strainers, toothbrushes
and razors. You have the option to drop your caps off at a local
Whole Foods Market or to even mail them in!
What cities DO allow recycling of caps?
New York City, NY - Newly implemented programs now
allow residents to recycle bottle caps.
Los Angeles, CA
- Recyclers first empty and rinse bottles, then caps MUST BE ATTACHED and recycled.
Phoenix, AR - Expanded recycle programs available to
residents who wish to recycle more durable plastics.
Houston, TX - Residents may recycle caps as long as they
are REMOVED from the bottles.