The subtle change to bottled drinks that everyone’s secretly furious about: Experts lift


Whether it’s Coca-Cola or orange juice, if you’ve bought a bottled drink recently you might have noticed a subtle but infuriating change. 

The vast majority of bottles in the EU – and a growing number in Britain – now feature ‘tethered’ bottle caps which remain attached after opening. 

This is the result of laws designed to boost recycling and cut down on litter, but many customers say they find the new designs absolutely rage-inducing.

On social media, outraged customers have slammed the frustrating designs as ‘super annoying’, with one calling them the ‘worst thing to happen to humanity.’

So, are tethered caps worth flipping your lid over? MailOnline spoke to recycling experts to understand whether the change could really help save the planet. 

You might have noticed more bottles now feature a 'tethered' cap which remains attached after opening. This has been designed to boost recycling rates - but do they really help?

You might have noticed more bottles now feature a ‘tethered’ cap which remains attached after opening. This has been designed to boost recycling rates – but do they really help?

Why am I seeing tethered bottle caps?

Tethered bottle caps are not a new invention, but their use is now becoming much more common.

This is because of a piece of EU law named EU Directive 2019/90 which is set to come into effect from July this year. 

The law requires all beverage containers up to three litres to have a cap which remains attached to the bottle after opening.

Due to Brexit, this law is not binding on the UK, so you might be surprised to see that many bottles in British shops are still fitted with tethered caps.

The reason is that when companies started producing tethered caps it didn’t make sense for them to produce different types of caps for both the UK and EU markets. 

Following a change in EU law, most companies now use tethered bottle caps for the EU and UK markets. This includes Coca-Cola which now uses tethered caps

Following a change in EU law, most companies now use tethered bottle caps for the EU and UK markets. This includes Coca-Cola which now uses tethered caps 

Cameron McKinnon, Head of Sustainability at Innocent Drinks, told MailOnline: ‘We’ve attached the lids to our bottles because it’s now required by law in the EU, and we are already seeing this on products in the UK market.’

The motivation behind the law itself is the EU’s goal of ensuring all plastic products are ‘easily recycled’ by 2030. 

Each year, around 359 million tonnes of plastic is produced worldwide, of which somewhere between 4.8 and 12.7 million tonnes ends up in the ocean.

According to the European Commission, plastic bottle caps make up more than four per cent of the plastic found on European beaches. 

By ensuring the bottle and cap remain together, the EU hopes that both will make their way into the recycling.

Mr McKinnon explains: ‘They’ll help to make sure more bottle caps are collected and sent for recycling, instead of ending up as litter. By attaching the cap, the whole lot gets recycled together.’

As tethered bottle caps become standard across Europe and spread to the UK, many are frustrated that the changes make it difficult to drink from plastic bottles

As tethered bottle caps become standard across Europe and spread to the UK, many are frustrated that the changes make it difficult to drink from plastic bottles 

Despite being added to stop littering and improve recycling rates, many people on social media have complained that the changes are frustrating and make the bottles difficult to use

Despite being added to stop littering and improve recycling rates, many people on social media have complained that the changes are frustrating and make the bottles difficult to use

What do the public think?

Perhaps unsurprisingly, the public has not been impressed with the change and many users are furious that they can’t detach the lids from their bottles.  

X, formerly Twitter, is full of examples of members of the public venting their frustrations and confusion. 

One commenter wrote: ‘Tethered caps are the worst thing to happen to humanity since the removal of the headphone jack.’

‘Tethered bottle caps were a bad and stupid idea. It makes it difficult to drink from the bottle, can take forever to get the cap screwed back on,’ wrote another.

Meanwhile, another simply added: ‘The European Union forces us to use the new bottle caps – tethered caps – and I really hate this.’ 

On X, formerly Twitter, commenters were furious that the EU's law introduced mandatory tethered bottle caps

On X, formerly Twitter, commenters were furious that the EU’s law introduced mandatory tethered bottle caps 

One commenter said that the tethered cap was the 'worst thing to happen to humanity since the removal of the headphone jack'

One commenter said that the tethered cap was the ‘worst thing to happen to humanity since the removal of the headphone jack’

A few commenters even expressed frustration with the entire concept of having to recycle plastic bottles

A few commenters even expressed frustration with the entire concept of having to recycle plastic bottles 

In another common theme, many commenters maintain that they always rip the cap off regardless of the tether.

‘I tear them off if I get a bottle with a cap fastened on,’ wrote one furious commenter on X.

Another added: ‘It’s super annoying… Most people will just rip it off.’ 

In some cases, this appeared to lead to some confusion, with several social media users complaining that bottle caps were becoming more difficult to tear off.

‘Maybe it’s my technique but it never comes clean off, have to yank it and risk spillage’, wrote one user.

Another shared a picture of a torn-off tethered cap, complaining: ‘I wish bottle caps were designed better so you didn’t risk splitting your finger open every time you buy a bottled drink’. 

A common theme among some commenters was an insistence on ripping off the caps regardless of whether they were tethered or not

A common theme among some commenters was an insistence on ripping off the caps regardless of whether they were tethered or not

On commenter on X shared an image of a torn-off bottle cap with a complaint that they had injured themselves while removing it

On commenter on X shared an image of a torn-off bottle cap with a complaint that they had injured themselves while removing it 

On X, other commenters appeared to be aware that tethered caps are intended to improve recycling rates but many questioned their efficacy. 

‘It’s trying to solve a problem that didn’t exist, almost everyone screwed the lid back on when throwing the bottle away’, one commenter wrote.

Several other commenters agreed with this sentiment, with one writing: ‘As an adult I find it very straightforward to put the bottle and top in the same recycling receptacle.’ 

A few commenters also pointed out an inconsistency between the introduction of tethered caps and local recycling services’ advice to separate bottles and caps. 

Writing to Oldham Council, a borough of Manchester, one commenter asked: ‘How is that compatible with the new regs that require caps to be tethered to the bottle to reduce the risk of littering?’ 

Others were unaware that the new tethered design was intentional and complained that the new type of bottle cap 'never comes clean off'

Others were unaware that the new tethered design was intentional and complained that the new type of bottle cap ‘never comes clean off’ 

On X, a few commenters were aware that the tethered cap was designed to increase recycling rates but maintained that it was easier for people to screw it back on themselves

On X, a few commenters were aware that the tethered cap was designed to increase recycling rates but maintained that it was easier for people to screw it back on themselves 

Do tethered bottle caps help the planet? 

Members of the public are not alone in their frustration and several major drinks companies strongly opposed the EU law when it was first introduced. 

Danone, Nestlé, PepsiCo, and Coca-Cola (which owns Innocent Drinks) all vehemently opposed the law’s introduction back in 2018.

They argued that making tethered caps mandatory would not only impose massive costs on drinks companies but also make plastic waste problems worse.

Research commissioned by UNESDA Soft Drinks Europe, an industry body, suggested that tethered caps could result in between 50,000 and 200,000 tons of additional plastic being used each year.

The report, conducted by PwC, also predicted that introducing the caps would create an additional 58-381 million kg of CO2 equivalent.

Despite bottles and caps being made of different plastics, bottle caps are actually easier to recycle if they arrive still attached to the bottle. That's why recycling plants like this one in Dagenham prefer to take bottles when they have caps screwed back on

Despite bottles and caps being made of different plastics, bottle caps are actually easier to recycle if they arrive still attached to the bottle. That’s why recycling plants like this one in Dagenham prefer to take bottles when they have caps screwed back on 

One commenter pointed out that it is 'very straightforward' to simply put the cap and bottle in the same container

One commenter pointed out that it is ‘very straightforward’ to simply put the cap and bottle in the same container 

While it is too early to see any big changes in the data, it is not clear that these dramatic predictions have come about.

Innocent, for example, now says: ‘Through attaching our caps we have also found ways to lightweight the caps too, which is part of our ambition to achieve a 20% reduction in the weight of packaging per litre of drink by 2030.’ 

Nor is increasing the amount of plastic used in bottles much of a problem, provided that more of the plastic is actually being recycled. 

Even though caps and bottles are different types of plastic, they are actually easier to separate if they arrive at the recycling facility together. 

At a recycling plant in Dagenham, operated by Veolia UK, 15,000 tonnes of plastic milk bottles are recycled every year.

The bottles arrive with their caps and are shredded before being floated in a water bath where the lighter plastics rise to the surface and are skimmed off.

Plastic bottles and their caps are shredded and floated in tanks so that they can be separated by sorting machines

Plastic bottles and their caps are shredded and floated in tanks so that they can be separated by sorting machines  

Tim Duret, Director of Sustainable Technology at Veolia UK , told MailOnline: ‘The small size of bottle caps means that if they aren’t recycled attached to the bottle, they can fall through the recycling process.’

When this happens the caps are sorted as ‘fines’ and are often sent to landfill or to be incinerated. 

Mr Duret adds: ‘The same is true of drinks bottles – keep the cap on and every bit but the label can be recycled.

‘If bottle caps are recycled with the bottle, you save emissions by recycling the materials compared to extracting raw materials and avoid emissions from other treatment options like landfill.’

This means that although tethered caps might be annoying, they do have real benefits in terms of the recycling process.

Dr Torik Holmes, an expert in plastic recycling at the University of Manchester, told MailOnline: ‘I think they are worth the mild inconvenience.’

However, Dr Holmes also notes that tethered caps have not solved many of the issues affecting plastic recycling. 

In particular, Dr Holmes highlights the fact that almost all soft drink companies still use bright colours for their new tethered caps. 

While this might seem innocuous, Dr Holmes explains that colourants are ‘the bane of the recycling process’. 

If even a small amount of coloured plastic gets mixed in with a stream of clear waste this can affect the value of the finished product and make it harder to turn back into bottles. 

Coca-Cola bottle caps now feature tethers (pictured) but experts say that the fact they still use bright colours can be as much of a problem for the recycling process

Coca-Cola bottle caps now feature tethers (pictured) but experts say that the fact they still use bright colours can be as much of a problem for the recycling process 

Dr Holmes says: ‘That’s the elephant in the room: it’s great that the caps are tethered but arguably a big issue is that we’re still using colourants.’ 

And, as many on social media noted, a number of local authorities in the UK, such as Manchester, still request that bottles and caps be separated. 

Dr Holmes points out that this is ‘obviously in conflict with a move towards tethering’. 

The problem is that not all recycling plants have the same type of equipment, which means that something which can be recycled in one region can’t be in another. 

Dr Holmes even notes that living in Wales but working in Manchester, he has to use different bins at work and at home.  

He adds: ‘In the UK there has never really been a nationalised way of thinking about handling waste… and this confusion harms our ability to actually improve recycling.

‘What you need is consistent policy so it’s clear what goes in what bin, how it will be treated, and how it should be prepared.’



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