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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 from.

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 to.

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 efficient.

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 plastic 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 years.  Art 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?
Some 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.