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Don't crush your can before recycling it, experts say

Crush the can? Cap on or off? Here's what the experts say.

WASHINGTON — This weekend we celebrate Earth Day, making this the perfect opportunity to talk about small things you can do to accomplish your recycling goals–while staying hydrated.


Are single-use drink containers like water bottles, soda cans, and coffee cups recyclable?



Yes, you can recycle all or parts of water bottles, soda cans, and coffee cups. Here’s how.


You absolutely should recycle aluminum beverage containers when you can--but, should you crush a can before recycling it? Our sources say: no.

“It's OK to crush them a little bit, to make room in your recycling bin, said Jill Martin, Director of State Programs at The Recycling Partnership. “But a deep crush compacted all the way might cause a little bit of trouble when it gets to the recycling plant.”

Martin and the EPA explain that fully crushed, flat and skinny cans are harder to detect when sorting through mixed-stream recycling at recycling facilities. 

“Small items tend to fall through the screening process and may get lost in the system,” Martin said.

Are you supposed to remove the cap of a plastic bottle before recycling? 

No. In fact, for the same reason you don’t crush the can, you should leave the cap on to ensure it’s recycled.

“If that cap is removed, it's not going to make its way through the process,” said Martin. “If you keep the cap attached, it's going to get recycled with that bottle.” 

The EPA says you can leave labels on the bottles as well. 

Are disposable coffee cups recyclable? 

That answer is more complicated. 

“It really depends on your coffee shop and what they're using for a cup,” said Martin.

Republic Services waste management company explains: if you have an iced coffee, most clear plastic cups and lids will be recyclable–pitch the straw.

With hot coffee: the cardboard sleeve is recyclable, but the cup itself is typically paper coated with a plastic lining, so it won’t properly break down in most recycling facilities.

However, it depends on where you live: the District of Columbia is one of the few places in the country where you can toss a disposable coffee cup in the recycling. Neighboring Arlington asks you to trash it.

Most plastic lids are recyclable–but that will vary based on the type of plastic, and your location.

You can find Loudoun, Fairfax, Arlington, Montgomery, and Prince George's Counties, plus Washington D.C.'s recycling lists online.

Information takes seconds to look up–and could keep items from spending years in a landfill.

“Efforts every day in recycling really matter, and we appreciate it,” said Martin.

Whatever you’re tossing, make sure it’s as clean and dry as possible: not only does that help the machinery properly identify and sort through recyclables—Miller reminds us, it’s a kind thing to do for the people who are sifting through the waste and making recycling happen.

However, avoid “wish-cycling,” or putting items in the recycling bin that should actually go in the trash. Unless you know it will be accepted for recycling, the item may contaminate the bin or make the process more difficult.

“When in doubt, chuck it out,” said Martin.

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