Can You Recycle Pizza Boxes? The Answer Might Surprise You

·2 min read
Photo credit: WestRock
Photo credit: WestRock

There are many contentious debates when it comes to pizza. Cheese or pepperoni? New York- or Chicago-style? Pro- or anti-pineapple? While all of these arguments may never be resolved, we're here to discuss one that should have a definite answer: Should you put used pizza boxes in the recycling bin or the trash?

One of the reasons for this cardboard confusion is that the answer may vary based on where you live. Recycling centers across the country each have their own guidelines for what you can recycle. In New York City, for example, you're free to add your used pizza box to the recycling with the rest of your cardboard. But in other municipalities, like Huntsville, Alabama, for example, you need to put it in your trash.

Why can't cities agree on where to dispose of pizza boxes? It has to do with the grease. Oil, cheese, and other pizza remnants can compromise the inter-fiber bonding that occurs during the recycling process. This can make large quantities of recycled paper weak. But is it really a big deal?

According to a study commissioned by the packaging company WestRock (they supply pizza boxes to Domino's), greasy boxes don't do as much damage as some people may think. They calculated the amount of grease in your average used pizza box and did the math.

The study found that the strength of the recycled material degrades when the cardboard is 20% grease by weight. Most used pizza boxes' grease-by-weight percentage hovers at around 1 to 2%. Since they only make up around 2% of all recycled corrugated cardboard every year, the amount of grease found in our recycling centers won't make a significant impact.

So what does this mean for us when it comes to recycling at home? When in doubt, check your local recycling rules. Domino's has made the process easy for everyone: Go to their website and plug in your ZIP code, and the site will tell you if your local recycling center accepts pizza boxes. About 70% of recycling centers in the United States do accept them—just remove any liners, leftover food, and tiny plastic tables.

For the remaining 30% that don't allow pizza boxes to be recycled, Domino's and several cardboard producers launched The Recycling Partnership in 2020 to divert pizza boxes from landfills. You can get involved by reading their toolkit and encouraging your local recycling center to take pizza boxes.

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