Yes, Pizza Boxes Are Recyclable

The Recycling Partnership last week released a scientific study that demonstrates that used pizza boxes are recyclable, even when they are greasy and have some cheese contamination. The report will be used to get more recycling programs to accept pizza boxes.

The basic results are clearly favorable for greater acceptance of pizza boxes for recycling. The typical pizza box has 1% to 2% grease content by weight, which is about one-tenth the acceptable level for cardboard (corrugated paperboard) recycling. The study looked at the impact of greasy boxes on mixed recycling loads that include 8% greasy pizza boxes with varying levels of greasy contamination from between 3% and 40%. The recycled materials produced were still viable for packaging use, well within the tensile strength required for packaging.

Does this mean that recycling programs everywhere will now accept pizza? No, it will take time to see more programs take pizza boxes. Only 27% of homes are served by recycling programs that list pizza boxes as accepted, while only 11% prohibit pizza boxes. Meanwhile, 73% of recycling programs do accept cardboard; they will lead the way in loosening prohibitions against pizza boxes.

What do you do with your next pizza box?

Our takeaway from reading the report and guidance for recycling programs is that any pizza box with a liner can be recycled as normal cardboard if the liner is removed. Most pizza boxes, even the greasiest and cheesiest, can be successfully recycled unless you live in one of the areas served by a recycling program that prohibits pizza boxes in the collection bin.

Don’t send materials your program won’t accept, it doesn’t help and can contaminate other recyclable materials. Do point out the Recycling Partnership research to your recycling program. In 73% of the country served by cardboard recyclers, it’s a good idea to put the pizza box in your bin.

Pizza box test examples

The Recycling Partnership tested a variety of grease- and cheese-contaminated pizza boxes. Only the box on the right approached unacceptable recycling results.

You might ask, isn’t cheese a barrier to successful recycling?

“Cheese tends to solidify and get screened out during the pulping process,” the report states. The researchers tested sending boxes heavily contaminated with cheese through a recycling process and found that it did not make the resulting paper significantly fiber less viable for reuse.

To be absolutely sure your box will be recycled, remove the liner. If your pizza box doesn’t come with a liner, ask your pizzeria to add one in the future to limit grease contamination. And eat happily, that box can become the next pizza box you receive.

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