The Surprising Recycling Mistake You’re Probably Making

Who else has been proudly removing the cap from plastic bottles before tossing then into the recycling bin? After all, caps and bottles are generally made of different types of plastic. Making sure that they are not stuck together is helpful, isn’t it?

It used to be. In the past, recycling plants didn’t have an effective way to separate the two different plastics, so capped bottles would jam up the entire system. Recycling programs actually did ask us to start taking the plastic caps off our bottles (so good job remembering!).

But now, with our modern recycling methods, it appears the opposite is true. That’s right—most of us should be leaving the plastic caps ON our bottles before recycling them!

Why You Should Leave Bottle Caps on for Recycling

Modern processing involves crushing the two types of plastic into particles and separating them in a water bath. The cap material sinks, while the bottle particles float, making it easy to keep them apart. And we’re not just talking water bottles. You should be leaving the caps on laundry detergent, shampoos, lotions, condiments, et cetera.

It makes the caps significantly easier to deal with and keep track of.

Close up hand throwing empty plastic bottle into the trash

In fact, if you remove the caps, you might as well just be just tossing them straight into the landfill. Their small size often leads to improper sorting at the recycling center—likely, they’ll bypass processing altogether and just get tossed into the trash heap.

Of course, this isn’t true for 100 percent of recycling centers. Check in with your local center to make sure they’re equipped with modern sorting machinery. They’ll definitively instruct you on whether to leave your cap on or off.

Another Common Recycling Mistake

Don’t crush your plastic bottles before recycling. What?! But aren’t we helping to save space? The answer is no, and by flattening your bottles, they are easier to missort, particularly at single-stream recycling plants. It’s generally easier for the machines to handle them if they are intact.

An estimated 5 billion plastic bottle caps pollute the shores of California alone. It’s important that we all do our part to clean this mess up. Recycling centers already are dumping tons of our plastic recyclables into landfills ever since China stopped processing our low quality recycling for us—it’s a massive issue. Don’t let your bottle caps be part of the problem. Keep them screwed.

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Vincent T
Vincent T16 hours ago

Thank you for sharing

Barbara S
Barbara S3 days ago

Thank you

Sam E M
Sam E M17 days ago

I'll definitely contact my recycling center to get informed about caps and crushing. Thanks for the info.

Christine V
Christine V17 days ago

My town says to take the tops off

Sarah A
Sarah A19 days ago


Anna R
Beth R25 days ago

thank you for sharing

Ali G
Ali G26 days ago

In Australia, what is commonly done, on the advice of recycling bodies, is to cut a wide slot near the top of a large 2 or 3 litre (4 or 6 pint) flagon (jug), and just insert the bottle caps as they become available. When it's full, screw the lid onto the flagon, and put it into the recycle bin. This is also a suitable spot for bread-bag tag, straws, and other miscellaneous little bits of "hard" plastic.

Sarah Hill
Sarah Hill26 days ago


Hristina B
Hristina B28 days ago

Thanks for the info. I am glad I have never ever separated the bottle from the cap neither smashed the bottle

Coo R
Coo R29 days ago

needs to be more consistent