Plastic Bottle Cap Recycling - Characterization of Recyclate Composition and Opportunities for Design for Circularity
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In line with efforts to create a circular economy of plastics, recent EU legislation is strengthening plastic bottle recycling by ambitious separate collection targets and mandatory recycled content obligations. Furthermore, explicit design requirements on the caps of bottles and composite beverage packaging have been introduced. These caps are typically made of polyethylene or polypropylene and often contain additives such as slip agents and anti-statics. Commercially available bottle cap recyclates (BCRs) as well as specifically formulated model compounds were analyzed in terms of composition by means of infrared spectroscopy, differential scanning calorimetry, and high-performance liquid chromatography. Their composition was found to be heterogeneous due to polyolefin cross-contamination, directly reflecting the diversity of cap materials present in the market. Slip agent legacy additives originating from the initial use phase were found and quantified in both commercial and model cap recyclates. This highlights the opportunity for redesigning plastic bottle caps not only in response to regulatory requirements, but to pursue a more comprehensive strategy of product design for circularity. By including considerations of polymer resin and additive choice in cap manufacturing, more homogeneous waste streams could be derived from plastic bottle cap recycling, enabling recycling into more demanding and valuable applications.