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  Caps and Lids Frequently Asked Questions​


Mecklenburg County now accepts caps, lids and labels on plastic bottles and containers at the point of recycling.  The key is the bottles and containers must be empty and should be rinsed.  This is a change for all curbside and drop-off recycling programs in Mecklenburg County.  Below are some of the commonly asked questions related to this change.

But I've always heard that the plastic recyclers needed caps to be taken off?

Until recently the plastics recycling industry was not able to effectively recycle bottles with caps on so the message to remove the cap was created. Additionally, Mecklenburg County recycling processing technology has improved along with demand for the recyclable material increasing.  All this has combined for the updated caps-on recycling message.  This important development is expected to be permanent.  The most important part is the bottle is empty for the sorter to recognize it.  If at all possible is should be rinsed, this helps keeps containers, carts, trucks, equipment and the recycling process clean.

Why make the change?

When recycling gets easier, participation goes up.  Mecklenburg County is dedicated to boosting participation in recycling.  Additionally, the cap material is recyclable.  Why dispose something that could be recycled?  The cap back on reduces odor and other issues with keeping bottles in homes until collection day for the less-than-pristine used food bottles.  The key is the bottle should be empty for the processing equipment to recognize the bottle.

Who is in charge of unscrewing all those caps during the recycling process?

No one.  Bottles with caps on are ground into flakes before being vigorously washed in the recycling process.  The washed cap material is then separated from the bottle material during a water bath float/sink process.  The bottle material will sink; the cap material will float.  Both materials are then recycled into new items.

Can I put caps loose without the container in for recycling?

No, caps can not be recycled loose.   Individually they are to small for the machinery to process.  The cap must be on the container and the container must be empty for the cap to be recycled.

I thought caps were made of a different type of plastic and had to be recycled separately?

The bottle and cap are made from different materials.  One of the early steps of the recycling process is to grind the bottle and caps into small flakes.  Then the different material types can be separated.  For many containers types, the caps and bottle are different materials very intentionally.  The float/sink process separates the material so they can be recycled independently of the other.

I thought the plastic cap was safety hazard?

Compacted bottles with caps on can create risk of a projectile.   Changes in the process along with following safety guidelines greatly reduce this risk.  You can puncture or flatten the bottle before replacing the cap to reduce this but it is not necessary.  The key is the bottle is empty and put in the recycling bin.

Does this include metal caps and lids?

Yes, metal can lids can be creased back into the empty can.  Other wide mouth plastic lids can also be left on the empty container.  

What about the label on the container?

Labels can stay on the container.


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