Capping off the recyclables

As my home inches closer towards zero waste and we attempt to reach the goals set forth by the City and County of San Francisco, there’s been one baffling piece of the puzzle: what to do with the caps and lids from recyclable containers? I realize that in the grand scheme of things, these are small details, but you know how it is: the devil is in the details, I love the details, AND I got stuck.

Think about it. What do you do with the lids from milk, juice, kombucha, vinegar, olive oil, wine, and beer bottles? And how about the wee tops from tubes of toothpaste, mustard, and tomato paste? Ooh, and the larger lids of the variety that “pop” when you open the jars from store-bought sauces, pickles, and sauerkraut? Do these go in the trash or the recycling bin?

My inquiring mind needed some answers, so I approached the source – San Francisco’s Department of the Environment – with my dilemma and a group portrait of lids and caps I collected just for this purpose.

bottle tops and jar lids

And the answers, provided by Hillary Near, Commercial Zero Waste Associate, were as follows:

“Lids (metal and plastic) should be recycled along with their associated containers. The Association of Postconsumer Plastic Recyclers (APR) reports that plastic bottles and containers with caps and closures should have the caps replaced prior to recycling.” She directed me to APR press release which (sadly) is no longer available in its entirety for you to geek out on this aspect of recycling.

In San Francisco, we can recycle many plastics, so “Plastic lids are usually too small to be captured by the recycling recovery facility. They’re much more likely to be recycled if the container is first crushed, then the lid affixed to the container.” This means that empty metal toothpaste, mustard, and tomato paste tubes can also go into the recycling cart with their plastic lids and that plastic corks can be recycled along with their bottles. Replug the jugs!

And what about the beer bottle caps, since those cannot be re-attached to their bottles? (And to clarify, I am not a beer drinker. It’s what one gets for living with a German!) Drop ’em in the recycling bin.

“Beer bottles caps are probably made of metal, in which case they will likely be captured using the high-powered magnet that pulls ferrous metal off of the sort line at the recycling facility.”

And back to the topic of those corks. Regardless of where you live, please do not put real cork corks in the trash or compost bin! Corks can be recycled. Check reCORK’s website to find a collection location near you.

If none of these items are recyclable in your community, take action. Make some calls and see what can be done. And if that leads you to a dead end, use those lids and tops to make a statement. Make some art!


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