How to Improve the Recyclability of Caps and Closures

Emily Newton is the Editor-in-Chief of Revolutionized. She has over five years of experience creating content in the supply chain and manufacturing sectors.


It’s becoming much more common than it once was to see products with recyclable packaging. Such options align with consumer sustainability preferences, and they make it easier for corporations to indicate an awareness of how today’s actions impact the environment’s future.

However, caps and closures are parts of packaging that aren’t always recyclable. That’s starting to change. Here are some actionable ways companies can make them more eco-friendly with the end goal of becoming circular brands.


Keep the Cap Attached to the Bottle

Coca-Cola has been a leader in bottle cap recyclability for years, making caps of high-density polyethylene (HDPE) — a very common recyclable plastic. However, they don’t always end up in recycling bins. People often discard them before recycling the bottles. Some even littered with them.

However, the company recently introduced new packaging in Great Britain that keeps the cap attached to the bottle. The new design secures it around the neck with a small band.

Coca-Cola’s leaders are working toward creating a world free from waste. The company’s global goal is to collect and recycle the equivalent of 100% of its packaging by 2030. It also plans to make all packaging 100% recyclable by 2025 and introduce bottles with 50% recycled content by 2030. These are lofty goals, but all these changes are steps in the right direction.


Related: 5 Ways to Reduce Your Manufacturing Business Plastic Footprint


Consider More-Durable Closure Options

Some decision-makers prioritize sustainable packaging by switching to materials people can reuse. That might mean swapping plastic bottles out for glass ones. Offering a glass bottle with a cork closure is one possibility of a sustainable container and closure that people can use repeatedly by repurposing them in their homes.

Potato chip bags are great examples of packages that don’t usually have recyclable closures. Instead, they typically feature adhesive on bags not currently accepted for recycling. That’s still the norm. However, some forward-thinking leaders are considering other options. In one case, entrepreneur Del Currie set out to make chips sold in more sustainable packaging than the usual nonrecyclable material.

He had previously decided to live almost completely free from single-use packaging. Potato chips were the exception since he loved them. However, Currie’s eco-conscious daughter was unhappy about the decision and pushed her dad to develop a better option. He did.

In March 2022, Currie launched the Spudos brand, which sells potato chips to more than 65 zero-waste shops in the United Kingdom and Ireland. In those cases, shoppers bring their own reusable containers. They also season the snacks in stores by using flavorings contained in reusable cylindrical packages.

However, people can also buy Spudos online. One of the options is to receive them in plastic tubs that consumers send back to the manufacturer for periodic refills following the principles of the circular economy. Otherwise, people get them in cellulose bags that break down in about 45 days. Opting for a tub-style container enables using a recyclable and reusable closure that’s far superior to what most chip bags offer.


Related: Recycling Industrial Plastic. Why Is It Important?


Explore New Materials for Caps and Closures

Making packaging more recyclable often means being open-minded about new materials not yet widely used. That’s because many of the most readily available types of closures are not necessarily easy to recycle.

The zip-closure bags used for food storage are good examples. The material itself is recyclable, but complications arise because it often has residue from whatever people stored inside the bags. That means consumers must take them to specific locations for processing. Some grocery and other big-box stores offer such services.

However, in an ideal world, it’d be easier for people to make sustainable choices. That could be a reality fairly soon, particularly since researchers are investigating newer options for the food bags and their zippered closures.

In one case, South Korean plastics developer Neoenpla is testing the feasibility of functionalized graphene nanoplatelets used in plastic zippered and non-zippered food storage bags. Early results indicate the packages keep food fresher for longer than options without graphene.

Researchers are also examining graphene-containing food bags that are either recyclable or biodegradable. Some make highly perishable products last longer, which could make these new containers more marketable and in-demand. These efforts are still in the early stages. That means people could eventually uncover limitations that limit their scalability. For now, this work gives a glimpse of what’s possible.


Related: Why Big Companies Should Invest in Sustainable and Innovative Plastic Alternatives?


Look for Ways to Avoid Plastic Caps

Even when plastic caps feature recyclable materials, there are often other complications to keep in mind. For example, in San Jose, California, people can only recycle plastic caps on the accompanying containers. That’s because they’re so small that they’ll fall through the recycling processing machinery and end up in landfills. Complicating matters further is that plastic caps originally used on Tetra Pak containers or any others with liners cannot be recycled either.

However, metal caps are OK to toss into recycling bins alone. The materials recovery facility where the recycled waste ends up has large magnets that connect to and pull up metal caps.

Given these specifics, it’s not surprising that professionals who develop caps and closures are interested in possibilities that don’t use plastic. The right packaging can help build a company’s brand. It can also position a company as more innovative than its competitors.

Work is underway on projects that investigate plastic-free options for caps. One project involves a cellulose screw-style cap for Absolut vodka bottles. Representatives at beer brand Carlsberg are doing something similar by developing fiber-based caps. They already have a fully bio-based bottle and recyclable cap, but the nonplastic closure would be a further improvement.

Blue Ocean Closures fiber based screw caps

Image Copyright: Blue Ocean Closures


Handle Recycling Internally if Feasible

Some companies go above and beyond expectations and work out the specifics of accepting the products they create for internal recycling. One example comes from Bedford Industries. That company makes closures such as twist ties and bread-bag clips, as well as something called the ElastiTag. It combines a molded elastic band with a paper tag. You might see them around bundles of produce or necks of sauce bottles.

However, what stands out about these products is the Bedford Industries-developed TagBack program. It’s an internal initiative whereby the company accepts every ElastiTag for recycling. Some supermarkets have convenient return points inside. Otherwise, consumers can mail the tags back to the company, but they must pay for return postage.

The company then processes the recycled Elasti-Tags and uses the materials for new products. One option is the resin used for outdoor furniture. Covering the postage costs could discourage some people from participating. However, it’s meaningful that this company is doing much more than others by assuming responsibility for recycling.


Related: How Can Businesses Adress Non-recyclable Plastic Pollution?


It’s Time to Get Creative With Caps and Closures

These examples show plenty of avenues to explore when making caps and closures more recyclable. Many require thinking outside the box, but the results are often impressive.


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