How To Recycle Plastic Bottle Tops

The overuse of plastic has become a hot topic in recent years, in no small part thanks to David Attenborough’s Blue Planet. While we’re all trying to do our bit to use less and plastic, we’re still a long way from a practical way from preventing its use altogether.

You should leave plastic bottle tops on their bottles when placing them into your plastics recycling bin. The general rule is to empty, rinse and replace. That means empty any remaining contents from the bottle, rinse (and empty) it out, then replace the lid for recycling.

large multicoloured pile of bottle tops
Large Multi-coloured Pile Of Bottle Tops

Do Bottle Tops Have To Be Removed?

Going back about a decade, many councils were asking residents to remove the caps from bottles before putting them into recycling bins. The reason was machinery wasn’t able to separate plastics, and the caps were often a different plastic category to the bottles.

You do not need to remove the cap from the bottle for recycling. Today’s recycling plants are capable of managing the separation of these types of plastic as they are sorted.

To be completely sure, check the website for your local council. As time has passed more and more councils now follow a lid on rather than cap removed policy, with very few areas remaining in the latter group.

Do Charities Still Raise Funds With Milk Bottle Top Collections?

While there are still a few milk bottle top collections in operation, the majority have closed their doors. While raising money for good causes is a very respectable effort, the plummeting value of the plastic for recycling has significantly reduced profitability for recycling firms.

Charities collecting milk bottle tops to raise money for their causes are on the decline, so there are more effective ways to help them. Common alternatives include donating old mobile phones to recycle their valuable components, and simply making monetary donations.

What Are Plastic Bottle Tops Made From?

Simply feeling a plastic bottle and its lid will give you a clue that they’re not quite the same. There are seven main groups of plastics, plus a few extra variations on the theme too making up the family of plastic materials.

Plastic bottle lids are almost always group 5 plastic, with the catchy name Polypropylene. You’ll see the symbol marked as a number five in a triangle on plastic packaging like bottle caps.

Polypropylene is used in a lot of household products because it’s relatively strong and hard wearing, while at the same time considered safe for contact with foods.

What Are Plastic Bottles Made From?

The bottle a group 5 polypropylene cap fits onto is likely to be in a different group altogether. Of the other 6 groups making up the seven groups comprising most plastic manufactured, plastic bottles fall into two groups.

Plastic bottles tend to be made from plastic group 1 or 2, that’s Polyethylene Terephthalate (abbreviated to PETE or PET or PT) or High Density Polyethylene (shortened to HDPE) respectively.

As a rule of thumb, if a bottle is clear it’s likely to be group 1 PETE/PET/PT, such as single use bottles containing water, fizzy drinks or cordial. On the other hand, coloured or opaque bottles containing things like milk, washing detergent and cleaning products are typically group 2 HDPE.

What If I Can’t Recycle Bottle Tops In My Bin?

There are a few cases where you might struggle to recycle bottle tops. The most problematic is living in an area that isn’t yet offering lid-on plastic bottle recycling. There are other possibilities too, for example you simply generate more plastic waste than will fit in your bin. More on that in a moment.

If you cannot put bottle tops into your recycle bin, you can find your nearest recycling centre. You can often find them in larger store’s car parks, or local council operated tips. Ideally look for one with a Terracycle point, who take a huge variety of materials for recycling.

I Have More Plastic That Will Fit In My Recycling Bin

Many homes have had their recycling bins for over a decade now, and while the general waste collection have become less frequent, it’s not always the case that plastic collections happen more often. Similarly, the bins are still the same size, so larger households might struggle to fit all the plastic into the bin for collection day.

Get more plastic into your recycling bin by squashing the bottles before replacing the lid. A huge proportion of the contents of a recycle bin is air trapped in bottles, so removing it from being trapped in bottles with lids increases your wheelie bin’s capacity to hold more plastic.

One myth that floats around is that you shouldn’t crush bottles for recycling because it means plastics can be mistaken for paper. That’s actually something that’s believed to have originated in the US, where single stream recycling is more popular.

Single stream recycling means all recyclables go into a single bin, and are later sorted into their different types at recycling plants. The logic is it makes recycling easier for residents and they’re therefore more likely to participate.

In the UK, we’re much more used to separating waste – depending on your area it might vary slightly. The most common arrangement is a bin for plastic bottles with lids, glass and metal cans, one for paper and card and a final one for general waste.

As a result, paper and plastic shouldn’t be in the same place for recycling, so the claim that an automated sorting process might confuse plastic and paper is a little far fetched.

The Future Of Recycling and Bottle Tops

Now that we’re in a good place and able to recycle bottle tops with their matching bottles, there’s not much left to improve on.

The key remaining part is to bring up to date recycling to the last few areas of the country, so that there’s truly national coverage to allow plastic bottles to be fully recycled with the lids on.

Once that’s achieved, perhaps a wider range of plastics are next to be added, as there are a huge number of other plastics recycling services that are lacking wide collection coverage – not least, tubs, pots and trays.